Sunday, November 6, 2011


DEPT. OF DEFENSE RESEARCHERS STUDY NARRATIVE: The continuing saga of a project I wrote about early last year. The Pentagon's research arm is studying -- well, to put it plainly, how stories create terrorists. In a project it calls "Narrative Networks," the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is soliciting research proposals "in the areas of (1) quantitative analysis of narratives, (2) understanding the effects narratives have on human psychology and its affiliated neurobiology, and (3) modeling, simulating, and sensing—especially in stand-off modalities—these narrative influences." I love that phrase "stand-off modalities," which I assume would include wars, hostage situations, terrorist attacks, etc.

Though I have my political differences with Pentagon brass, and my doubts about whether narrative can be quantified in the way they're proposing, I'd have to agree with the reasoning behind the project: "Narratives exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity. It comes as no surprise that because of these influences stories are important in security contexts: for example, they change the course of insurgencies, frame negotiations, play a role in political radicalization, influence the methods and goals of violent social movements, and likely play a role in clinical conditions important to the military such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, understanding the role stories play in a security context, and the spatial and temporal dimensions of that role is especially important."

NONPROFIT STORYTELLING: Not just the Department of Defense, but also folks in the philanthropic sector want to better understand and tell stories. Fenton Communications strategist Mike Smith offers "Six Common 'Character' Flaws in Nonprofit Storytelling," in two blog posts, part one and part two. Stories have to have characters, and Mike gives these useful tips. "(1) People, not organizations, are characters. (2) Make your protagonist struggle. (3) Let them [your characters] speak. (4) Don't forget the quirky stuff. (5) Create some type of antagonist." (6) Consider privacy issues when telling the stories of real people -- there's more flexibility there than you may think.  The full blog posts flesh out these ideas, and give examples.