Dr. Kittie Grace talks on engaging narratives

On Nov. 20, Dr. Kittie Grace, professor of communication studies and director of forensics, presented for the invited faculty lecture series on the importance of rhetoric in narrative storytelling and tips for creating engaging, exciting, detail-rich narratives and stories, with stories of her own, audience participation and research on what makes a narrative.

“I feel very honored being invited twice; some of my colleagues have been here just as long or longer and haven’t been invited. Just the fact that I get the honor of representing the faculty twice in such a way means a lot to me — it makes my heart feel good,” said Grace.

Grace set the stage with a dramatic flair, calling upon the cliche “It was a dark and cloudy evening…” opening line before correcting herself and going into a personal story. This story served as an example throughout the lecture. 

Walter Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm is something that is critical to connecting to other people through stories, with the concept of narrative coherence and narrative fidelity. 

“We build relationships through telling stories that we, one, can logically understand, and two, that we feel are significant to us,” Grace said.

A clear story arc is necessary along with characters that the audience can relate to. This type of story is something that has been a part of human communication since ancient times. In personal stories, the narrator becomes the hero and other people are relegated to sidekick positions or become villains, Grace explained.

Named “The Pink Shirt Theory,” one detriment to people creating and telling their own stories is getting caught up in the minute details, such as what color shirt a person was wearing. 

Stories and narratives are something that human brains are designed to focus on and retain. 

“When you have a typical lecture-based style of learning, language processing and language comprehension is how we’re receiving information. But when you’re looking at this notion of what a story does, you can remember more. More areas of your brain are lit up because they are engaging more of your senses,” Grace said. 

The impact of stories on the human brain lends to rampant rumors and the success of tabloids, according to Grace. 

“We are drawn in by stories, all types of stories — that includes rumors that are told. It includes the ‘tea’ that we share sometimes, sometimes other people’s stories that we shouldn’t be telling. It impacts our brains more and makes us want to hear and communicate with others more; therefore, we are hardwired to be entertained by the drama that is around us,” Grace said. 

Interaction was key during Grace’s lecture, engaging listeners with the lecture right from the start by showing a short film and asking the audience what the lesson of the film meant to them, and the audience was given a short time to create their own action-focused, detailed and memorable story to share with their seating neighbor. 

“People creating their own stories is everything, the fact that one is able to say ‘this is who I am,’ it helps to give people a sense of identity, it helps them to be able to connect with others, it creates a shared field of experience with other people,” Grace said. “The stories we tell about ourselves will shift with our experiences, but the fact that you are able to own your own story helps you to feel empowered.”