Good stories have an underlying structure
Much later, I learned that good stories are structured just like base-balls. On the surface, we find the story's visible elements: the set-ting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we've all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and we think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more. Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. The storyteller does not introduce characters and actions by happenstance. Each visible element exists to illustrate an overarching point, an explanation of a professed truth about how the world works. lust as the ball of string beneath the cover invisibly determines a baseball's size, shape, and weight, the moral of a story provides its structure, shape, and relevance. In a fable, this moral will be overt and even stated outright. In a more complex story, it will be up to the listener or reader to glean it from the tale. But no matter how hidden or obvious it may be, without this underlying structure, audiences will intuitively feel that a story is just a collection of random events. Without some kind of moral, we instinctively reject a story as poorly told. And then there is the story's core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all. This core may even be hidden from the storyteller herself. Here we find the values implied by the moral. When we hear a story with the moral "Better safe than sorry," we know something about the storyteller; we know she values safety and predictability. When we hear a story with the moral "He who hesitates is lost," we know our storyteller values something entirely different—adventure and risk. The values at the core of a myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.
I've found these insights enormously useful, and we'll employ them to explore the iconic success of stories built from the core outward on truths about human nature. These are truths that inadequacy stories ignore and often seek to deny. We'll unpack the mythic formula of what I call empowerment marketing—stories told to help encourage audiences on their path to maturation and citizenship. The practice of empowerment marketing is based on two of the most influential theories in the field of human growth and maturation—Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. The hierarchy of needs provides us with a vastly expanded menu of universal values you can appeal to in your audiences beyond greed, vanity, fear, and self-interest. Using Maslow's insights, you can define higher-level values appropriate to your message, brand, and audience. Then, using what we learn from Joseph Campbell, you can turn those values into a resonant moral of the story and create a story structure that will appeal to the heroic potential in your audiences. These models show us a clear alternative to the dark, limited view of human nature inspired by Freud and brought to the marketplace by men like Edward Bernays. And because these empowerment marketing stories function in the way traditional myths always have, calling their listeners to growth and maturity, campaigns built on these models are asserting their supremacy in our new oral tradition.
[...] the act of reading is a secret, and sometimes fertile, ceremony of communion. Anyone who reads something that is really worth the trouble does not read with impunity. Reading one of those books that breathe when you put them to your ear does not leave you untouched: it changes you, even if only a little bit, it integrates something into you, something that you did not know or had not imagined, and it invites you to seek, to ask questions. And more still: sometimes it can even help you to discover the true meaning of words betrayed by the dictionary of our times. What more could a critical consciousness want?
One piece of information followed by a denial, that's two pieces of information.
The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It’s not something that committees can do. It’s not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It’s done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.
Dear Mr. —
It comes down to the meaning of ‘needless.’ Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal.
If you were to put a narrow construction on the word ‘needless,’ you would have to remove tens of thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty. Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. How about [Macbeth’s] ‘tomorrow and ...