This week, my class is reading the chapter about stories in Made to Stick. Dr. Chip Heath and Dan Heath present several studies to demonstrate that stories are more effective and memorable than statistics. Although the authors present criteria for memorable stories, they do not discuss whether people will believe your story. This is where rhetorical scholar Dr. Walter Fisher of University of Southern California comes in (pictured left).
Dr. Fisher proposed a framework to explain the ways in which people evaluate stories. The two criteria for assessment include narrative probability and narrative fidelity.
Narrative probability (also referred to as narrative coherence) refers to whether the story fits together and whether the story, characters, and actions are consistent and non-contradictory.
In the book Arguments and Arguing, Dr. Tom Hollihan (of University of Southern California) and Dr. Kevin Baaske (of California State University, Los Angeles) explained the tests of Fisher’s narrative probability with the following questions:
- Is the argumentative structure of the story satisfying and complete?
- Is the chronology credible and convincing?
- How do the characters acquire their motivation?
- Do the heroes and villains behave in their roles?
- Are the actions of the characters reliable?
- Do the actions follow the developed plot line? (p. 19)
Narrative fidelity refers to the matter of truth. Hollihan and Baaske generalized Fisher’s tests of narrative fidelity into two main questions:
- Do the characters make their decisions in accordance with the audience’s values?
- Are the facts presented correctly?” (p. 19).
It’s no wonder that public service announcements like this one are ineffective. What happened to message testing?
Fisher, W. R. (1978). Toward a logic of good reasons. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 64, 376-384.
Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. Communication Monographs, 51, 1-21.
Fisher, W. R. (1985). The narrative paradigm: An elaboration. Communication Monographs, 52, 347-367.
Fisher, W. R. (1987). Human communication as narration: Toward a philosophy of reason, value, and action. Columbia: University of South Carolina.
Hollihan, T. A., & Baaske, K. T. (1994). Arguments and arguing. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.