2020 StoryHow in Review


While it will be good to see 2020 in our rear view mirror, we still managed to accomplish a lot here at the StoryHow Institute. In addition to publishing 20 articles, we also released our newest product: The Proverb Construction KitTM.


Here’s a recap of the StoryHow blog in 2020:

1. Meaning is Negotiation

People find themselves in trouble when they violate the metaphors of others.

2. When Customers Revolt

What happens when customers refuse to wait for you to step through the self-aggrandizing opening to your marketing presentations?

3. Engineering a Story

Ron explains how his roots in engineering have served his storytelling well.

4. Interest Piques When Our Expectations are Violated

Have you ever stopped in the middle of a discussion and said, “That’s an interesting question?” In this article, Ron addresses what makes things interesting.

5. Telos Precedes the Telling

Ron discusses the role of the Greek word telos in human communications.

6. Looking to Share a Big Idea? I’ve Got a Preposition for You

Ron explains how the smallest, most commonly used words in the English language are more effective in conveying universal meaning than their larger, multisyllabic cousins.

7. The Sound Designer and the Storyteller

What does a sound designer and a storyteller do with a borrowed drone? Ron takes you behind the scenes of a family storytelling project.

8. Storytellers Address Symptoms and Causes

When solving a problem, it’s too easy to focus myopically on eliminating the symptoms as opposed to the cause.

9. The Story You Start is Rarely the Story You Tell

The best stories begin by telling a different one.

10. Character Development isn’t just for Fiction Writers

Inspiration comes from many places. Who are some of the most influential people in your life? Perhaps they represent the beginnings of some incredible new characters in your next story?

11. Storytellers Make Stuff Up (and that’s OK)

Sometimes storytellers need to invent things–to make a point, rather than to deceive.

12. The Buntling Ball Prize: Lessons from a Century-old Marketing Disaster

Sometimes we stumble onto one story while researching another. A few years ago, an advertisement caught my Ron’s eye while he researched a story an in an 1870s magazine. He filed it away, forgot about it, then came across it again a couple of months ago. Today we’re going back 135 years to tell the story of two books: a best seller and an epic flop.

13. Storytellers Don’t Underestimate the Power of Metaphor

Metaphor is both misunderstood and under-appreciated. And while most people have an elementary understanding of it–the act of describing one thing in terms of something totally different–they stop there, using it as a clever writing trick as opposed to recognizing the fundamental role that it plays in human thought, understanding, and communications. Ron opens the first of a multi-part series on the importance of studying metaphors.

14. We Use “Good” and “Bad” Metaphorically

In the second post of this series on metaphor, Ron explains how we attach the concept of good and bad to the properties we us to convey new meaning.

15. Storytellers Make Puzzles

In the third of our series on metaphor, Ron describes how storytellers create puzzles that their audiences feel compelled to solve.

16. The Great Chain Metaphor

This fourth post in a series on metaphor looks at the reasons why metaphoric property transfers are unidirectional.

17. The Comet of the Century

Writing a story for audio is different than one intended for text. Here’s story told each way. Ron presents a personal story through both his 15-year-old podcast (Griddlecakes Radio ®) and a blog post with photographs.

18. The Proximity Effect

The fifth post in our series on metaphor reveals fundamental truths about the human condition, and thus are effective devices to explain complex concepts. We do so by taking a deep dive into the metaphor: Proximity is Power.

19. Ignorance is Bliss

The sixth post in our series on metaphor takes a look at the power of combining seemingly incongruous terms to convey the deepest of meaning.

20. All Stories are WhyDunnits

The best storytellers draw their audiences in by presenting characters that act in ways that seem incongruous with achieving the best outcomes.


All Stories are WhyDunnits


Mystery writers reveal just enough information to create a WhoDunnit puzzle for the reader to solve. Yet, the story doesn’t end with a discovered culprit, because we don’t yet know the crux of the story–the WhyDunnit–when the accused explains why they chose their actions. You see, all stories are WhyDunnits because we want to know why people choose their actions.

In our recent series on metaphor, we discussed how humans are autonomous beings that evaluate the signals gathered through their five senses and make decisions primarily for self-preservation. However, there’s something missing from that equation. While we’re all born selfish, we eventually learn that a life requires the help of others to reach our full potential. So, in addition to making decisions that benefit ourselves, we simultaneously seek collaboration opportunities.

I first learned of Moral Foundations Theory when fellow storyteller, Park Howell, recommended that I read Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. In it, Haidt describes five moral foundations that influence human behavior:

  1. Care: We feel human connections through our shared experiences. For example, since we as individuals understand the concept of pain, our innate capacity for empathy causes us to dislike seeing pain in others and so we feel compelled to take care of other members of our communities.
  2. Fairness: True collaboration requires alliances with people who are worthy of our trust. One such test is “reciprocal altruism,” whereby if someone does us a favor, we feel an obligation to return it. Experience teaches us to align with individuals that reciprocate while avoiding those who just take, take, take.
  3. Loyalty: We expect those who’ve earned our trust to be loyal. As a result, we respect those who keep their promises while rejecting those who don’t.
  4. Authority: All communities are built upon hierarchies. Families have parents, companies have management, and communities have leaders. Healthy communities rely on the trust that each member will perform their role. Leaders are responsible for making decisions that protect the community. Those farther down the hierarchy are expected to respect that authority and support the group through playing their roles.
  5. Sanctity: The human experience teaches us that while all things have value, some things are more valuable than others. Those at the top of the list, such as life, religious beliefs, or the way we conduct ourselves, are sacrosanct and thus worthy of our vehement defense.

But there are two sides to morality. For example, every moral compass has a north and a south pole. Consider:

  • Care vs. Harm
  • Fairness vs. Cheating
  • Loyalty vs. Betrayal
  • Authority vs. Subversion
  • Sanctity vs. Degradation

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the roles of protagonist and antagonist–with the left side representing virtue and the right side representing vice. The best storytellers use these concepts to draw an audience into a WhyDunnit. For example, when the protagonist betrays an ally or the antagonist opts for fairness, the storyteller presents a puzzle for the audience to solve: Why would a good-guy be disloyal or a bad-guy be fair?

The best characters act in ways that seem incongruous with achieving the best outcomes. The next time you write a story, consider experimenting with each character’s moral foundations.

And remember, bad morals make for good stories.


Photo Credit: United States Office Of War Information, Hollem, Howard R, photographer. Production. Tin smelting. Texas City Texas Galveston County, 1942. July. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017694353/.

Ignorance is Bliss

The sixth post in a series on metaphor

Life is a crazy, mixed-up ball of contradictions that we’re forced understand as we navigate through it. Luckily, we have metaphor as a tool to explain the human condition’s incongruities. For example, let’s take a look at the metaphor Ignorance is bliss.

Merriam-Webster has this to say about each word:

  • Ignorance: “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.” Synonyms include: cluelessness, innocence, and obliviousness
  • Bliss: “complete happiness” with synonyms such as heaven and paradise.

At first glance, it looks like they have nothing in common. But when you add the human experience, we begin to see a close relationship that we’ve told stories about for centuries. The Old Testament described how a bite of fruit from the tree of knowledge altered Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden bliss into one of danger and shame. Siddhartha Gautama meditated under a Bodhi tree (tree of enlightenment) and emerged as the Buddha: the enlightened one, who awoke from a perpetual sleep-walk through life. Both stories are built upon the metaphor: ignorance is bliss.

The first post of this series described how metaphors transfer properties from the word to the right of “is” (bliss) to the word on the left (ignorance). In doing so, the metaphor attempts to connect happiness with a lack of knowledge. Before eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve experienced a false sense of security. But, just because one feels safe, one isn’t protected from danger.

So why eat from the tree of knowledge? Why meditate under the tree of enlightenment? The answer is found in the antonym to ignorance: knowledge.

If ignorance is bliss, then knowledge is power.

In other words, ignorance is weakness in a world where survival requires strength.


Photo Credit: N. Currier. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. , 1848. [New York: N. Currier] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/90708415/.