#59) PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE 1: Five Narrative Criteria to Watch For

This is how I will be viewing the first Presidential Debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  There are plenty of things to listen for in the debate, but as far as narrative dynamics, these five may be the most important.

THE NARRATIVE INDEX.  I posted this video (edited by John Rael) on Thursday.



Ronald Reagan was of course a (supposedly) master storyteller.  I always thought his stories were hokey, but billions didn’t.  Neither of these candidates are good at it.  Hillary is too cold and fact-oriented, Trump is too impatient.  It would be good to open with a specific story of some sort set in a specific moment in time involving a single individual as the main character, but neither have ever shown much ability for this.

2) NARRATIVE (Problem/Solution)

This is Trump’s “strength.”  He is a dealmaker with a short attention span.  He likes to get down to business quickly, and it shows in his Narrative Index (But/And ratio in the video above which Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing did a nice post about).  Listen for this. But also see if he doesn’t manage to get through lots of narrative loops (And, But, Therefore) by cheating the system through over-simplifying (“we like the Mexicans AND we want them to be part of our country, BUT there are too many illegals, THEREFORE let’s build a wall”).  See if Hillary is able to answer questions by quickly getting to the problem being addressed, or if she goes off with little focus.


They both have supposed themes.  Trump is Make America Great Again.  Hillary is Stronger Together (though it’s not clear who this is directed at).  See if they open with their theme, then close with it (coming full circle like the Monomyth).


Hillary has a tendency to open with four paragraphs of thank you’s that destroy her momentum. Trump opens quick.  Watch for this. One would hope she would open with a focused fierceness and a tone of “this is no time for pleasantries.”  It would also be really nice if she were to open with an ABT structure along the lines of the opening of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.


The description of the ordinary world ideally involves drawing on history.   In the Gettysburg Address, before mentioning the civil war, Lincoln described the history of the nation: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, AND dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  He started his second paragraph by talking about the present problem, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war”.

Hillary could do so much by drawing on the history of equality in this country, but who knows if she will.