Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So It Goes: Vonnegut's Law

This essay is an excerpt from a longer article on Story/Message Theory, originally published November 14, 2010. To read the original article in full, click the link. Links to other excerpts follow at the conclusion of this entry.


Kurt Vonnegut: By Rashawerakh
Once we reduce the the familiar Parable/Fable Story Framework into a fundamental algorithm, and limit our concept of Story to this specific formula, we also gain immediate insight how the component parts of Story may by themselves be useful communications tools.

Certainly, in a world where attention spans are said to be diminishing, and communications as a result are increasingly abbreviated, then we must eventually ask ourselves, 'Do I need to tell the whole story? Or even a Story?'

And upon examination, we might conclude that if the task is simply to engage, that Story is the wrong tool, and that a more effective approach would be to simply deliver a Message sans Narrative, or to flip the Story/Message model and follow Message with Narrative, as often happens 'in the real world'.

Messages by themselves can be effective and cost efficient means to inviting focus and sustained attention. And when audiences are stingy with attention, Story is definitely not the solution.

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut suggested writers of short stories start as near the end as possible.

But what does it mean to begin a Story fifteen seconds before its conclusion, even if we take into account the additional magic and time manipulation the moving image affords us?

It's as if you began the biography of a great man or woman with his or her funeral and never got around to explaining the importance of this figure:

Once Upon a Time,
[Insert Name of Great Historical Figure],
May He/She rest in peace.
The End.

In practice, we might also condense a Story, not by simply skipping to the end, but by opening at the beginning and summarizing the journey.

Imagine a series of plot points along a line, like pearls on a necklace. We can string those plot points along a short or long thread, thereby reducing or lengthening our Story, while retaining most if not all the plot points.

However, this technique not withstanding, at what point, it is fair to ask, does the semblance of Story disintegrate as a result of brevity? And can Message alone be an effective tool at fulfilling a marketing objective as the traditional model of Narrative + Message?

We know from direct experience that twenty or twenty five seconds is quite enough to panic housewives that their marriages are on the cusp of dissolution lest they figure out a way to make their whites whiter, and that within another five or ten seconds we might provide them with a relationship saving bleach. –Hence, the thirty-second spot.

But while fifteen-second commercials modeled on a tradition construction may or may not work (as a means to fulfilling a marketing objective) what’s interesting is the following is also true:



Message = Fulfilled Objective

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Articles in this series:

Story/Message Theory (Original full length article)
What is a Story?
The Parable/Fable Framework as Story Algorithm
The Story/Message Theory Construct
So It Goes: Vonnegut's Law
The Power of Effective Messaging
Create Engagement with Compelling Signification
Elevator Pitch: Speed Dating Signification
Static Symbolic Accentuating Triggers
Story is Dead
Leading with Message Signification
Non Linear Cross Platform Transmedia Storytelling
Mythology and Messaging

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