Saturday, July 21, 2007

Schank Chpt.6 - Story Skeletons, pgs.147 to 188

Schank begins by providing his assessment of "Communication via Stories':
  • "The stories we tell each other we also tell ourselves. This can cause us to see our own lives in terms of established, well known stories that can obscure the ways in which our actual situation differs from the standard story."
  • "Seeing a particular story as an instance of a more general and universally known story causes the teller of the story to forget the differences between the particular and the general."
  • "Thinking in terms of general stories poses a serious danger, although doing otherwise is not so easy. We want to see the situation that we encounter in terms that are describable to others."

Personal reflection on the above comments: Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960's I can understand his assessment. A personal story of my youth is often viewed differently by those who remember some of the general stories of that era in my life.

Regarding cultural stories, Schank says that often the stories we use to guide our decisions are not our own, but are drawn from the standard stories of their culture. Schank underscores the fact that one word from a cultural foundation can tell a story. He then transcends to the Skeleton concept with the statement that: "This book is not about language, but about stories.

Schank says that a skeleton story is the talker's definition of a word. Primarily it is built around culturally attained beliefs. The actual story builds a new story around the skeleton. He says that we see events in terms of their own skeleton stories so they can use them as ammunition to support a cause. He then goes through a series of newspaper articles to show his point.

Schank makes some points that might be useful when crafting a story:

  • "We can see an event in so many different ways that we must understand how we decide which story skeleton is applicable."
  • "When no standard story skeleton is available, telling stories is difficult...A teller will make the story fit into the skeleton and will leave out the parts that do not quite fit.""

Schank then goes through several divorce related stories that show how a skeleton can be used to alter the story.

Schank lost my interest for a while, but gets back to my interest in what he has to say when he gets to page 177 again addresses the gist of a story. Gist is defined as the main point or part , i.e essence, for example: the gist of an argument. Schank defines gist on page 188 in the conclusion section as: Gists are structured sets of events that function as a single unit in memory that can be transformed by a variety of processes into actual stories.

Schank then states that the gist of a story is stored in memory and can be worked on in a variety of ways. He then defines the following processes that can be used to transform the gist into various aspects of a story: Distillation, Combination, Elaboration, Creation, Captioning, and Adaptation.

Schank defines the five gist transformers as follows:

  1. Distillation: A two part process that reduces the events o fa story to a set of simpler proposition, i.e. gist construction, and then putting those propositions into the spoken language.
  2. Combination: Combining a point with a story means leaving out the parts of the story that don't help make the point and emphasizing those parts that do. As Schank says: "The combination process causes the distillation process to suppress events unrelated to the points of the story to be conjoined. The combination process must integrate two stories by deciding which is the master story and which is the coloration for the master."
  3. Elaboration: "A story can be elaborated in order to create an emotional impact on the hearer. Or it can be elaborated in order for the teller to hold center stage as long as possible."
  4. Creation: "The basic creation process combines elements of a real story or stories with a standard story the author wishes to tell."
  5. Captioning: "The process of captioning is basically one of reducing a large amount of information to a very small amount."
  6. Adaptation: "Adapting a story means taking one story and making another one out of it.

Personal Assessment: Chapter Six was useful. It was very informative regarding the gist and how to transform it to tell a good personal story.

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