Opinion

The 4 lies of storytelling

On Slate’s podcast The Gist, Matthew Dicks discusses the “four lies of telling true stories”, which he defines as:

  1. lies of omission – leaving out irrelevant detail
  2. lies of assumption – invent specifics to make the story more powerful
  3. lies of compression – slowing down or expanding time
  4. lies of progression – switching the order of events

Commenting on this piece, Scott Berkun notes that “there is no purely true story” but warns against telling stories which “satisfy our narrative bias”:

Messy and confusing stories that stay with us despite their lack of resolution, or clear heroes and villains, might be more important to us than the satisfying ones. We’re not well equipped to deal with ambivalence, ambiguity and existentialism despite how deeply effected we are by events in our lives that causes these feelings. Shouldn’t this be what our best storytellers help us explore?

Scott concludes his piece by warning, “Next time you hear a great story, ask yourself if it’s more than just the narrative machine in your brain that’s satisfied.”

Source: Scott BerkunThe Gist

Stephen Bounds

Stephen Bounds is an Information and Knowledge Management Specialist with a wide range of experience across the government and private sectors. As founding editor of RealKM and Executive, Information Management at Cordelta, Stephen provides clear strategic thinking along with a hands-on approach to help organisations successfully develop and implement modern information systems.

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2 Comments

  1. As a sometime author of fiction myself, I’ve learned that despite the power of stripped-down fables, one of the strongest tools in the writer’s toolbox is the telling detail: the specificity of setting and ambience, the definition of character and voice. Good liars and writers know it’s the grounding of a story in a complex, believable reality that makes it believable. That’s why, when we strip all the context from after-action reviews or best practice accounts, we are removing all the vibrant detail from the story that makes it stick. And that’s a waste.

    1. +1 Neil.

      It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? By seeking to document the “truth” (eg by leaving out any narrative details which can’t be objectively verified), we are increasing the chance that the lessons we are seeking to impart won’t get learned at all.

      There’s a great post by Anecdote about the importance of stories and recall. I’ll have to try and track it down.

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