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Uncovering the Basic Elements of Compelling Narratives

In a recent study, researchers sought to investigate the existence of a common structure underlying narratives using computer-based language analysis methods. The researchers measured structural and psychological categories of language across ~40,000 traditional narratives (e.g., novels and movie scripts) and ~20,000 nontraditional narratives (science reporting in newspaper articles, TED talks, and Supreme Court opinions).

Results revealed a consistent underlying story structure across traditional narratives, consisting of three primary processes: staging, plot progression, and cognitive tension. Interestingly, adherence to normative story structures did not appear to be related to the popularity of the story. Furthermore, analysis of fact-driven texts revealed structures that differed from story-based narratives.

These findings provide insights into the underlying structure of narratives and how they differ across traditional and nontraditional forms. By uncovering the three primary processes that exist across traditional narratives, the researchers shed light on the basic elements that make up a compelling story. The study suggests that understanding these elements can be helpful in creating narratives that engage and connect with audiences, regardless of the medium or genre.


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