Monday, July 27, 2009

Synopsis: Elements of Persuasion (The Last 3 Elements)

In The Elements of Persuasion (TEOP), the Antagonist is defined as the thing that is keeping your Hero from achieving their goal(s). This 'thing' could be a person, or a disease (if you're a doctor), or a sinking ship (if you're stuck on the Titanic).

An Antagonist isn't used to create conflict; they're used to "clarify what the conflict is about".

So, here's why TEOP thinks you should use an Antagonist. The authors say that if you're going to persuade people, then they must remember what you've said. Citing studies that indicate that experiencing strong emotions increases the chances of remembering something, the authors then point out that using an Antagonist has two advantages:
  • you can easily generate strong negative emotions because of them, and
  • audiences will associate those the negative emotions with the Antagonist - keeping your Hero sympathetic.
Antagonists also get the audience on the Hero's side, says TEOP.

You've got to choose the 'right' antagonist, though. One that can be overcome. One that's not a straw villain (either imaginary, or whose threat is overinflated). And one that you don't demonise - because that allows your hero and your audience to learn from them. Choose the right antagonist and you're halfway to succeed (in either the goal you've set for your hero or in persuading your audience).

Awareness and Transformation

TEOP kind of peters out in its final two chapters. Rather than providing 'how to' guides on building moments of awareness and transformation into your stories, it shares a bunch of pretty interesting stories about viral marketing and retail architecture. It's become very obvious by this point that TEOP is a business book, but in these last two chapters it becomes extremely (to be generous) 'indirect' in the way it imparts its lessons; very 'show, don't tell'.

So, drawing on material from the book's introduction, 'Awareness' is the moment that allows us to learn from the story and therefore succeed. When I write it like that, it seems that Awareness applies both to the Hero and to the audience.

You want to create a moment of Awareness in the audience where they see the problem for what it is and the actions they need to take to fix it. Hopefully by this point you'll have also created the Passion to change things and given them a model of how to change (the Hero).

As for Transformation ... well, TEOP says that in commercial storytelling this usually involves you getting paid. But more generally, Transformation involves taking action that changes you and the world around you.

That's all I was able to extract in terms of how to apply the Elements of Persuasion from the last 2 chapters.

Criticisms

I should point out that TEOP contains a bunch of interesting stuff that's not totally on-message. Creating teams, tips for presenting stories effectively, advice about finding meaning in your life. Stuff I found useful, but not for this synopsis.

And it turns out that my criticisms boils down to two points: This is a 225 page book that feels like it should be about 100 pages long, something that's tighter, more on-message. And I'm absolutely not the target audience ... well, sort of absolutely not. I can see how to apply some of this to my day-job. But the book is pitched at business leaders and corporate storytellers/marketeers.

Worthy of having a quick flick-through browse, filled with tangents, and it'll make you work to extract its lessons. That's my take on the Elements of Persuasion; now I'm going to try applying its principles, which I have found useful.
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