When you think about how to tell a story, you don’t usually think about numbers. But a pair of scientists who changed careers to focus on communications, Randy Olson and Jayde Lovell, are breaking narrative down into a simple equation that allows you to quantify the strength of your narratives.
Inspired by the writers of South Park
They were inspired after listening to the creators of South Park talk about how they approach their scripts. In their second draft for each episode, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a Rule of Replacing: “Every time you replace an “AND” with a “BUT” or “THEREFORE” the storytelling gets better.”
The scientists say that each thing you write should follow the narrative arc of And, But, Therefore or the ABT Framework. Think Carly Rae Jepsen. Hey, I just met you AND this is crazy BUT here’s my number SO call me maybe.
Easily test your own writing
You can test how well you’re following this framework by running a word count to find out how many ands and buts are included. Then, divide the number of buts by the number of ands. If you look back at speeches by historical political figures, this index correlates with who came out on top. Lincoln was far above Douglas when you compare their narrative index numbers. Of course, Lincoln is still remembered as one of our greatest orators. Douglas…. isn’t.
Another index Olson and Lovell suggest using is the AND Index, which you find by dividing the number of ands by the total words in a piece. Olson and Lovell suggest keeping this index below 2.5% for strong content.
What happens if you don’t have a strong Narrative or AND Index? You might become as obtuse as the World Bank, whose AND Index has crept up over time to around 5.5%. Do you want to read World Bank content? (If you haven’t seen it I promise you don’t.)
The upside of using the ABT framework is that it tends to create tension. Tension creates emotion. People who have had an emotional response to a piece of content tend to remember it. If you’re putting effort into creating brand content, don’t you want people to remember it?