Narrative Arc

So then, using my preferred method of telling the story of The True Cost of Coal, I explained what this theory looks like in practice.

I occasionally referred to this chart, which approximately maps the dramatic pacing of this story:

It is meant to be an emotional roller-coaster ride.  Above the center line are the parts of the story that make people feel good (beginning with stories of the land, biodiversity and beauty and clean streams of Appalachia), below it are parts that make people feel bad (note how very fast it drops down when we follow that section with explanation of MTR).  There is a powerful hopeful moment when we talk about historical resistance, but then corporate backlash & mechanization, leading to dance of hard choices, leading to the depravity of advanced capitalism, which is based on historical and continuing global genocide…. oofda, it gets real low.  Sometimes people cry.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  But we must not leave them there, and so resistance and regeneration should bring the mood back up and up and up, and let people off feeling empowered and energized.

  1. NEWS – most important info first, concentrate most or all of your facts here.  My version might actually read less like a newspaper article, more like a middle school research report.  But I think this is good – simple and logical.  Note how this intro revolves around crucial “essential questions.”
  • “Where is Appaliachia?”
  • “Why is it important?”
  • “What is coal?”
  • “What is MTR?”
  • “How does it affect people and ecosystems?”

2. CAUSE & EFFECT – the “Bigger Story,” based on an adaptation of the classical “Hero Narrative.”

NOTE: I did not actually talk about the Hero Narrative with the KlimaKollectiv, as we chose to focus our attention on other details.  However, I think there is some interesting content there, so I have created a special sub-section (also linked below).

Here I included a lot of content.  Often we think of this as two distinct sections – “history” and “the system,” but when you look at it this way they are clearly interdependent on one another.  Note uses of entertainment principles in each section.

  • Begin in the center and spiral outward (this is still the logic of “news,” but also, if you are constantly pointing at the banner and physically demonstrating to people how you are “unfolding the layers” for them, this is magic)
  • Regional history – “How is this possible?” (anticipate questions)
  • Historical resistance – “We are part of a long struggle” (foreshadowing)
  • Mechanization (plot twist)
  • Current mining – “Why do people destroy the land that they love?” (protagonist)
  • The system – “Why we need more and more coal” (antagonist)
  • Broader history, colonization – “root causes” (tragedy, catharsis)

3. CRISIS – step back, slow down… slow down more… deliberately step out of the story if necessary, look people straight in the eye and level with them.  Analyze the patterns, make it absolutely indisputable that things have just been getting worse and worse.  Bring the crisis, not because you want to hurt people or make them feel guilty or ignorant, but because you genuinely care about them and the decisions they will make.  Feel it, and they will too.

4. INSPIRATION – changing the picture… everything about this section/layer should feel different than what has come before (and with a little practice, you can include some powerful advanced-level story-telling tactics)

  • Resistance! – tactics & strategies (pick up the pace, feel your heart beating faster and the audience will do the same)
  • Lessons from the past, looking to the future (take on the reassuring tone of a preacher, make people feel they are not alone)
  • Regeneration – “We already have everything we need” (well, look at that… how simple!  I guess we are not totally screwed after all)
  • Cycles – closing the circle, seeing in new ways (when delivered well, the folding of the poster and/or telling of “hemlock reishi” story often makes people gasp, laugh, and clap as if they really did just see a magic trick)

I also drew a spiral path on one of their posters, and led the group step-by-step through each part of the presentation (which they had watched the night before), and how it corresponded with the sections above.  This photo is not so good, but you get the idea:


Because I assume that most folks reading this blog know at least some version of this presentation, I am not including many details here.  Maybe let me know if any of these points need clarification?

I will add just a few other random notes:

The chart above also roughly indicates proportions of the different layers.  #1 = 20% (get to the point, dont get bogged down quoting loads of stats), #2 = 45% (adequately explaining cause and effect takes time!), #3 = 5% (it is not healthy to dwell in the crisis moment), #4 = 30% (or more if you can, be sure not to get long-winded early and then cut this short at the end, that is a big bummer).

I usually end somewhat abruptly.  This is intentional.  I say something like “….and even the night sky rolls over into the coming dawn… [1 second pause] …and thats our story!  Thanks for listening!” and I also click the slideshow into a photo of a bee on a flower or something like that, and suddenly the magic trick is over, but often people are not really released from the spell.  This has an amazing effect of creating really high energy, and can lead to really lovely post-presentation conversations.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s