|Human Brain by BrianMSweis |
pons=gold, pituitary gland=purple
CC image from Wikimedia Commons
I remember telling 'Oh Luck of the Ugly', a Sudanese folktale about an ugly girl and her struggle to find happiness, to some Year 12 girls in a Brisbane school. Many of them had tears in their eyes and were strongly moved by the story. We talked about it and then I asked them, "What do you think boys would do when they listen to this story?" They were collectively derisive. One said, "They would just laugh."
I said, "No. Year 12 boys listen carefully and, towards the end, go very quiet and thoughtful. This story effects them as well."
How does a 'good' story bring about this effect? Well, it seems that effective stories stimulate the brain to produce specific two brain chemicals - one, cortisol, encourages the story listener to 'concentrate' and the other, oxytocin, to 'empathise'.
As storytellers, we know that if we are going to tell a story it might as well be a good one. It needs to follow narrative structure and if you like the term, as script writers and movie directors do, the dramatic arc. It needs reachable characters, a setting we can imagine, a challenge or a problem to overcome and finally a clear resolution.
Now, if the character is similar to the audience and, if that problem is one that a particular audience has experience with or imagine they might and, if the resolution is one that has meaning in their lives then that story is going to move that audience. I bet those chemicals will start effecting the way your audience will 'be in the story space' and 'empathise' with the characters.
This video talk, Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc: Paul Zak at the Future of StoryTelling 2012, is definitely worth watching. It will effect the way you think about stories.