Storytelling guide

Narrative science: how stories pull at your heartstrings

We all have those tales, whether in books, movies, or even old bedtime stories, that stir our emotions. Ever wondered why some stories can make us laugh, cry, or sit on the edge of our seats? Welcome to the fascinating world of narrative science.

1. The Brain and Stories

Stories = Brain’s Favorite Patterns

Our brain loves a good story. Think of it like a puzzle-solver. Every time you dive into a tale, your brain’s piecing things together, seeking patterns and making connections. Ever got that satisfying “aha!” moment? That’s your brain loving the patterns of a story. Every story is a pattern, and our brain gets a kick out of fitting the pieces together.


  • Think of the repeating events in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. By the time the third bowl of porridge is “just right”, our brains are nodding along, loving the predictability.

2. The Power of Characters

We See Ourselves in Them

Characters are the heart of any story. They’re like mirrors reflecting our own lives, dreams, fears, and wishes. Maybe they share our dreams, our fears, or even our quirks. That’s why we root for them, as explained through narrative science.


  • Peter Parker from the “Spider-Man” comics. Apart from the whole web-swinging thing, he’s a kid dealing with school, friends, and growing up. We see a bit of ourselves in him, don’t we?

3. The Hero’s Journey

A Time-Tested Story Structure

Many of our favorite tales follow this ancient roadmap: the Hero’s Journey. There’s a challenge, a big ol’ adventure, and finally, a triumphant return.


  • Ever watched “The Lion King”? Simba’s life goes through a roller-coaster, from a young prince, to an outcast, and then a king. It’s the Hero’s Journey in action.

4. The Role of Conflict

Why Stories Need Challenges

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, right? Likewise, a story without some bumps and challenges is, well, kind of boring. Conflict keeps us engaged and wondering what will happen next.


  • In the comic book world, what would Batman be without the Joker? Their conflicts not only add action but also depth to their characters.
  • The folk tale of “David and Goliath” isn’t remembered because David had a nice day. It’s that epic face-off with the giant that gets the spotlight.

5. Emotional Resonance

Why Some Stories Stick

There are stories we forget, and then there are those that linger, echoing in our heads and hearts. It’s all about the feelings they stir up.


  • In Pixar’s “Up”, remember the silent montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together? Barely a few minutes long, but it was packed with emotions, making it unforgettable.

6. Environment and Setting

More Than Just a Backdrop

The setting isn’t just where the story happens. Whether it’s a haunted mansion, a bustling city, or a galaxy far away, where a story takes place matters a lot. It sets the mood, hints at things to come, and can be a story in itself.


  • In the TV show “Stranger Things”, the town of Hawkins and the mysterious Upside Down are crucial. They’re not just places; they’re part of the story’s soul.
  • The Shire in “The Lord of the Rings”. It isn’t just some random village. It represents home, peace, and everything the characters are fighting for.

7. Conclusion

Stories have a unique power. They’re crafted from bits of truth, imagination, emotions, and yes, some narrative science too. So, next time you pick up a book or binge-watch a series, you’ll know a bit more about the magic behind those pages or screens. And for all you budding writers out there, these are the ingredients for tales that tug at heartstrings.

Further Reading

Hungry for more? Dive deep into “The Science of Storytelling” by Will Storr. It’s a treasure trove for those eager to master the art and science of crafting compelling stories.