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Human Storytelling Guidelines

Inspired by Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, the Human Storytelling Guidelines seeks to derive story design principles from neuroscience. Consider this more a living personal open-notebook, less an authoritative source.

Brain Basics

  1. Brains didn’t evolve to think.
  2. Brains predict, not react.
  3. Brains use concepts to model the world.
  4. Brains have a nature that requires nurture.
  5. Emotions are constructed, not cartoons.
  6. A brain is inseparable from its body.
  7. Variation is the norm.
  8. Relationships between things, not essences of things.

Derived Fundamentals

  1. The audience is an active user, not a passive viewer. They bring their priors, predictions, and affect to your content.
  2. Storytellers are experience engineers. We scaffold users’ brains with priors about the world.
  3. Your story may be someone’s reality. Should I pee on a jellyfish sting? Do all Chinese know kungfu? If a user has no other experience, your story is their only frame of reference.
  4. Stories are consequential. Religious stories inspire the lives of billions. Frozen inspires children to dress & act like Elsa. The Godfather inspired mobsters to behave more honorably. James Bond inspires the dress & behavior of young men.
  5. Stories are consequential. Jaws inspires people to be afraid of sharks. The Dark Knight inspires Joker wannabes and copycat crimes. Taxi Driver inspired John Hinckley Jr. to assassinate Ronald Regan. Films that normalize boys stalking girls as romantic.

Duty of Care

Storytellers scaffold people’s reality. With this great power comes great responsibility, legally called duty of care..

Civilization is a fragile, interdependent edifice of professionals who provide & protect non-professionals.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain

  1. Realistic depictions
  2. Realistic consequences of actions
  3. Dispel stereotypes, not enforce
  4. Responsible craftsmanship. Shelley Duvall by Stanely Kubrick bat scene took 127 takes. “Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable,” said Duvall to Rolling Stone in 1980. “Jack Nicholson’s character had to be crazy and angry all the time. And in my character, I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week.” How Playing The Joker Changed Heath Ledger For Good.

Teaching Methods

  1. Synthetic.Data + Syn.Results, then Real.Results. Helps brains see possibilities, priming for understanding.”If this, therefore this. If this, therefore this. But this…”
  2. Structured variation.