Home Forums Circularity RANDY OLSON: SESSION 2.5: “The ABT in Politics"

Viewing 0 reply threads
  • Author
    • #2555

      Randy Olson

      RANDY OLSON: SESSION 2.5: “The ABT in Politics”


      Here’s the video SwingLeft.org did on the ABT in 2018, produced by Aaron Huertas.



      And here’s the video that’s a compilation of pieces of commercials in the pandemic era.



      Lianne Allen-Jacobson to everyone:
      Question from a scientist: I love Park’s advice about making your customer your hero. But, I’m not sure who my customer is! (maybe this is part of my problem). If I’m writing a paper about coral physiology, is my customer the coral? the coral scientist? the taxpayer that funded my research?

      It’s probably the coral reef research/conservation community. Dianna Padilla will address this in her presentation.



      Barbara Little:
      I’ve heard too that one person’s death is a tragedy but 1000 people’s deaths is a statistic

      This is one of the greatest short articles on realities of communicating an issue to the public. I hereby beg all of you to read it and re-read it frequently. It’s really tremendous — simple, short and practical.



      Darryl Finnigan:
      Do speechwriters take any narrative training? Is it that they major in comms/English? Or are there more training avenies for them?

      As far as I can tell, this is a huge problem in the political world — that most of them have ZILCH training and understanding of narrative. You heard me tell my story about James Carville and the Hillary Clinton campaign. When I was in the middle of that effort, a friend told me to watch Episode 3 of Season 3 of Veep. You can read the summary of it here:


      In that episode Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) announces her candidacy for president. There’s scenes of her speech writers who have a big board full of different color Post-it notes — each color for a different writer. As one writer convinces her to add one of his bits, he runs to the board, takes down someone else’s colored note and replaces it with his.

      When I was trying to work with the young guy on Hillary’s team I told him about that scene and asked him if it was similar to their process. He said, “You’re not far off with that.”

      Most of the speechwriters tend to be history or political science majors. They know all about politics, but nuttin’ about narrative. Which is the problem.


      Evelyn Wight:
      Good distinction today between story and narrative – is there anything further we can read on this?

      Yes! Here’s my definition essay on the issue, from the end of last year’s, “Narrative is Everything” book.


      APPENDIX 1 – Defining “Story” Versus Narrative

      In 2011, my improv-instructor buddy Brian Palermo began making a bit of a noodge of himself in our workshops. I would use the words “story” and “narrative” liberally. He finally asked, “What’s the difference?”

      I scoffed, obfuscated (the very thing I complained about in this book’s Introduction) and said, “You can’t separate them.” I told him the terms are too broad and all-encompassing to parse. He said bullshit.

      We had that exchange enough times that I began to think about what he was saying. He was right. I was being lazy. So I put the same question to a senior communications professor at USC who had been a huge help over the years. He scoffed, obfuscated and dismissed me, saying, “You can’t separate them.” I wanted to say bullshit, but was a little more polite.

      By 2014, I had figured out what I feel is an effective set of working definitions for the two terms which I presented in Houston, We Have a Narrative. It’s now five years later. I not only stick with the definitions, I also think they are important, and that most people using these terms are just being lazy in not thinking this through.

      We live in an information-overburdened world now. We know that narrative structure is at the core of what we have to say. But you can sense the two words are not identical just by how people respond to them. Story has a sense of human warmth to it, while narrative is more cold and analytical.

      So here are my analytical definitions of the two.


      Famed mythologist Joseph Campbell did a comparative study of storytelling among the various religions and cultures of the world and found that their stories follow a basic form, which he called “the monomyth.”

      JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S MONOMYTH MODEL FOR A STORY. A “story” is this entire diagram. “Narrative” refers to just the bottom half— the problem-solution part of the journey—which is the driving force of a story .

      He defined the structure of a story as a circular journey that begins and ends at the same place. Along the way, it passes through three phases:

      1) THE ORDINARY WORLD (NON-NARRATIVE) – The first phase is what he called the “Ordinary World.” I would re-label this the “Non-Narrative World.” This is the initial part of the story, which is usually called “exposition.” It is largely intellectual. Information is presented, but there has yet to be a problem encountered, which means that the problem-solution part of the brain has not yet been activated. This is the A material in the ABT template. If it goes on for too long it will become the AAA template and bore everyone. We’ve all seen movies that left you wondering, “When is this going to start to get interesting?”

      2) THE SPECIAL WORLD (NARRATIVE) – The second phase begins when the problem is encountered. This is usually referred to as, “When the story begins.” The common expression in Hollywood is, “A story begins when something happens.” This is where that something happens. Before this we weren’t really telling a story.

      The “something” that initiates the problem can be finding a dead body, having the ship hit an iceberg, or having a tornado take a little girl to a new world. The corresponding problems are: whodunnit, how are we going to save everyone on the ship, and how is the little girl going to get back home?

      All of these problems activate the narrative process, which activates the narrative part of the brain. Joseph Campbell called this part of the journey the “Special World.” I would rename it the “Narrative World.”

      3) RETURN TO THE ORDINARY WORLD (NON- NARRATIVE) – The third part of the story starts when the problem is solved. The murderer is found, the people are saved, and the little girl returns home. This allows the narrative part of the brain to relax (mission accomplished) and return to a resting state. The final part is similar to the first part—i.e., more intellectual—now synthesizing and philosophizing about what was learned in the course of the journey .

      So this becomes the distinction. “Story” is the entire package. It’s the whole journey, from start to finish. It consists of both narrative and non-narrative material. It’s warm, human and multi-dimensional.

      As I mentioned in Chapter 2, Ronald Reagan was a storyteller. He would take the time to set up a story, providing human details to make it relatable. Then he would end it with some element of how the story relates to our world.

      Donald Trump is not a storyteller. He hates small talk, which is what he would call the details of the Ordinary World (the intellectual part—not his strength). He prefers to just “cut to the chase,” by starting with the problem.


      So here is how I roughly define the two terms:

      NARRATIVE – The series of events that occur in the search for the solution to a problem.

      STORY – The complete circular journey from non-narrative to narrative, then back to non-narrative.

      What this means is that “a series of events” that never gets out of the And, And, And mode of the non-narrative world is not, technically speaking, a story. This means that a resume or chronology is not a story. A series of events doesn’t become a story until a problem is established, which sets up the narrative part of the journey, which is the heart of the story.

Viewing 0 reply threads