Narratives Emerge from AudiencesAn audience is a group of people defined by values—their goals and ideas about how the world works. When audiences interact with stories, narratives emerge, patterns in how people see particular issues. This means that to identify and measure narrative, we need to start by identifying stories actual people actually engage with. Once we’ve identified those stories, we put thousands of them in front of actual audiences to understand the narratives they see.
Narratives Reproduce and SpreadHighly personal narratives may emerge when people process stories. For instance, reading about a food bank might trigger a narrative about the generosity of Aunt Sue, who runs her church’s shelter. We’re not concerned with personal, private narratives, but with narratives that are sufficiently sticky, persistent, and rooted to show up across, say, online news, entertainment television, and music. The ways people respond to stories—emotions, clicks, call outs—cause narratives to reproduce, spread, and change.
Narratives Determine CultureNarratives constrain what is possible and practical. They limit the stories people tell within a culture, sub-culture, story medium, or audience. Narratives also serve as atmosphere, a mood that colors perception and influences how people create and reflect culture. This means that, although the work of narrative strategy happens at the level of audience and story—varying the what, how, where, and to whom of the stories we’re telling—we need to know the whole narrative landscape to understand how the stories we tell will land.