How do stories convince us?

The journal article, “How do stories convince us?” by John Rodden discusses the complexities of narrative and rhetoric and how they are often used in conjunction to communicate effectively. He coined the term “a rhetoric of narrative” to explain this relationship, while keeping the following three questions in mind: 

  1. How do stories convince? 
  2. How do stories and “law books” appeal differently?
  3. How do narratives argue?

The rhetoric of narrative wasn’t clearly defined in the article, and was kind of difficult to understand, so I think it may be helpful to break this term down. Narrative is defined as the “systematic recitation of an event or series of events,” or in simpler terms “a story,” while rhetoric is the “art of using language to persuade”. Thus, when narrative rhetoric is used, speakers often use narrative elements to convince, inspire or argue certain points. 

Rodden focuses on the “how” and “why” of narrative throughout the entirety of the article. He uses the rhetoric trivium (grammar, logic) to explain the “how” and suggests that the “why” is persuasion.

He states that grammar is the ground or base, and logic is used as building blocks to rhetoric. To better understand this concept, think of what you learned in elementary school. Children are taught basic, fundamental concepts at an early age,  as their minds are able and ready to absorb new information. Rather than being able to self-express and discover, we just learn the facts/rules so that later on we are able to think for ourselves and formulate our own opinions based on our foundations of knowledge. This is similar to how grammar is used in rhetoric. Logic is the reasoning in rhetoric, and it gives a story significance. Back to the example in school, the logic years would be middle school and junior high, where students begin to make connections based on their prior knowledge. Last in the trivium is rhetoric, or the output, when students are able to apply what they’ve learned. 

Rodden uses the rhetoric of narrative to suggest that stories are often persuasive discourses, especially if they “progress primarily by motifs carrying ideas.” He claims that speakers often discreetly state their message when telling stories so that their audience is persuaded in less forceful manner.