"There's nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it." Thus spake Tyrion in the final episode of the television series Game of Thrones, claiming the throne for Bran the Broken. Many viewers disliked the choice of the king and its rationale. But the claim that "story" brings you to world dominance seems so banal that it's common wisdom. The narrative has become accepted as the only form of knowledge and speech with any chance of regulating human affairs. Even your Uber driver knows he needs a story, and very likely he can at least outline his story.
A Long, Long Time Go, 1966 In Fact
"Numberless are the world's narratives." So began Roland Barthes in his 1966 "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative." This essay was the inaugural gesture for the new discipline of narratology, the methodical analysis of narrative. "There isn't, there has never been anywhere, any people without narrative," wrote Barthes in 1966. "International, transhistorical, transcultural, the narrative is there, like life."
Narrative, which the human child appears to discover before age three, is fundamental to our sense of reality and how it is ordered. We don't simply arrange random facts into narratives; our understanding of how stories go together and how life is made meaningful as narrative presides over our choice of facts and the ways we present them. Our daily lives, daydreams, and sense of self are all constructed as stories.
Philosophy, especially moral philosophy (though perhaps still dominated by logical and linguistic analysis), also found strong advocates for narrative, such as Paul Ricoeur, Richard Rorty, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor. They make implicit or explicit claims that human institutions and behaviors can be grasped only through stories. That stories are the only way to inspire.
The French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard claimed that in our postmodernist moment, the "grand narratives" that sustained whole societies, the narrative of emancipation especially, have lost their force. We are left with infinite mini-narratives, individual or collective, and, in many cases, dominantly narcissistic and self-serving.
In 2022 Every Product, Service, and Person has a Story
I look at the package containing the cookies I just bought and find it wants to tell me "Our Story." I go to order furniture online and encounter a tab labeled "Our Story." Every person and organization is convinced they must have a story that resonates and inspires.
We are assured that every person has a story to tell. With a vengeance, the corporate person has understood that it must stake its identity, persuasion, and profits on telling a story, however bizarre or banal. Corporate reports have turned from the statistical to the narrative mode. And in the wake of the corporation are political candidates and parties, the military, the tourism industry, universities, hospitals, bakeries—even accounting firms, want to tell you their stories.
People like Simon Sinek preach it's not the what; it's the why. He's reinvented himself recently, but he started by preaching, "It's not the What; it's the Why." Interestingly his website does NOT have a tab for "Our Story."
20th-century American philosopher Joseph Campbell spent his whole life studying the myths of every known culture throughout history. Myth is just another word for a story. Like Sinek's website, Campbell's website does NOT have a tab for "Our Story." Sinek is alive, and Campbell died 35 years ago.
Given there's no way to fight this marker of contemporary life, you have no choice but to muscle up, get your story written and published.