Human brains are driven to make connections between things, like song lyrics, faces, and stories. This is because humans tend to personify and humanize things. This means that they are as likely to get attached to a fictional character as much as they are to an actual person. Narratives such as storytelling and songs are a way for us to bring meaning to our actions and connect with other people. Storytelling has been a part of human civilization since the beginning. Therefore, understanding the psychology behind storytelling will not only help you tell better stories, but it will also help you understand the “why?” of the phenomena.
What is narrative psychology?
This is a branch of psychology that studies the “storied nature of human conduct”, which is how humans experience and react to stories. This study operates under the assumption that human behavior is driven to find meaning and connection. Here, we use narrative as a method wherein you can communicate experiences in a meaningful way. While it is not a very well-defined study, the psychology behind storytelling relies more on the approaches taken when talking about human life and experiences.
Moreover, this not only applies to the reader but also to the writer. Storytelling is as much of an experience for a writer as it is for a reader. The writer and reader happen to be the two sides of the same coin and are reflexive of the experience. There needs to be someone to tell the story when one wants to listen to it. And this is why, when trying to understand the psychology of storytelling, we need to look at both parties involved.
Attention is a scarce commodity, something that all social media platforms run on. Why? Simply because attention, in most cases, translates to investment. Now, this investment can be time, emotions, money, etc. Hence, the longer you can hold someone’s attention, the more “investment” you have. Therefore, there are two things that a good story needs to do. One is to capture and hold attention. And the other is to transport the reader into another world. And this is where the psychology behind storytelling comes into play.
The psychology behind storytelling.
Humans love knowing things, but they hate information. And we use storytelling to bridge this gap by providing information in a way that our brains are equipped to understand. Moreover, stories help us create a sensory experience that can be incredibly immersive if done correctly.
There are mainly 2 types of narrative writing that affect the psychology behind storytelling:
- Linear narrative: this type follows the story in a chronological timeline, the sequences of actions as they happened, in order. This helps the reader understand the story as it happens. Moreover, it immerses the reader in the daily life of the protagonist. In this type, the reader experiences things at the same time as the protagonist does, and it helps build a layering connection.
- Non-linear narrative: in this, the telling of the story does not follow the order in which they happen. Flashbacks and time-shifts are common ways to tell the reader what happened. Plus, it is an excellent way to build tension in the story, as the reader does not have all the information at any point in time.
There are many writing techniques you can include in your work, depending on what you want your readers to feel. This can range from adding tension and keeping your reader in suspense, to adding irony to the story. The psychology behind storytelling depends on the techniques used and on how they work with other techniques.
Here are a few storytelling techniques that you can use to make the most of the psychology behind storytelling:
Using the setting to provide insight into mood, feeling, and context
This is a “show, not tell” type of technique. Instead of telling your reader that a character felt rage, describe how their body language and facial expressions changed. Additionally, you can include their thoughts. This helps your reader visualize what is happening. Moreover, you can use it as an immersive technique to get your reader to feel the same to a certain extent.
Foreshadowing gives your reader enough clues
Foreshadowing is giving subtle hints to your reader about what might happen. Moreover, you can use it to add an element of tension and suspense. It can start as a guessing game based on what you include as a part of foreshadowing. With this, you get the reader invested in the story to see if their predictions are right.
Imagery can be better to create a scene than dialogue
Instead of including dialogue as a means to tell the reader what is happening, you can use sensory imagery. Such as sounds, smells, and a scene’s background description are great indicators that can easily replace dialogue. There are a lot of elements in any scene, other than the characters, and you should use them to create a vivid image.
Cliffhanger builds suspense
Once you have your audience invested in your story, one way to build excitement for the next installment or chapter is to use cliffhangers. This is the ending of an act without revealing how the chapter is resolved. Many shows use this technique to build hype for the next season of the show. Readers can speculate how and what resolutions are made at the end of the story, which keeps them talking and thinking about the story and its characters.
Change the order of the events in which they happen
Many writers often use flashbacks as a means of explaining a character’s backstory or actions. This is a great way to start the story and provide information to the reader as the story moves. This means that you do not need to go in-depth into a character’s background and you can provide relevant information when needed. Additionally, you can implement this time-skip in the future, when you should tell the reader what will happen in the future. Meaning that the reader now knows how the story ends when the protagonist (yet) does not.