Eight of Literature's Most Powerful Inventions—and the Neuroscience Behind How They Work - Deepstash
Reoccuring Story Elements

Shortly after 335 B.C., Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a short treatise where he proposed that literature was many inventions, each constructed from an innovative use of story.

He suggested that the elements in a story could plug into our imagination, emotions, and other parts of our being, solve problems, and enhance our mental function.

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The plot twist thrilled Aristotle when he discovered it.

  • It supported his view that literature's inventions were constructed from story.
  • It confirmed that literary inventions could have powerful psychological effects. Recent research shows that when a story turns unexpectedly, it can stimulate a self-transcendent or "spiritual" experience, increasing our overall sense of life purpose.

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As recorded by Aristotle in Poetics, this invention's blueprint is a plot that discloses to the audience that a character is going to get hurt.

Aristotle hypothesised that this invention could stimulate catharsis, releasing the emotional tension after a traumatic fear. Modern research supports this idea. The hurt delay can increase our self-efficacy, a kind of mental strength that makes us better able to recover from our own experiences of trauma.

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Here, a narrator uses a future-tense voice to address us in the present. In the late 19th century, this invention was engineered into the foundation of the modern thriller, such as H. Rider Haggard in King Solomon's Mines or variants such as The Bourne Identity.

This one can have a potent neural effect: it boosts curiosity, immediately elevating your enthusiasm and energy levels.

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The secret discloser activates dopamine neurons in the brain to convey the hedonic benefits of loving and being loved, making you more cheerful.

The 1952 love song by E. E. Cummings: "here is the deepest secret nobody knows/ I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)"

Variants outside of poetry can be found in, for example, the novels of Charlotte Brontë.

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This element of storytelling focuses on turning around the satire's tool so that instead of laughing at someone else, you will smile at yourself.

This method can have analgesic effects, putting you in a serene state of feeling. A modern example would be Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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In this narrative technique, the narrator leads us inside a character's mind to see the character's remorse. For example, in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Jo March regrets accidentally burning her sister Meg's hair.

The invention's viewing of a character's private feeling of self-critique stimulates empathy.

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This invention is a story told by someone with a human heart and a god's all-seeing eye. Homer first used it in The Iliad, but you can find it throughout more recent fiction.

The invention works by tricking your brain into feeling like you're chanting with a greater human voice. It stimulates an endocrine response that is linked to feeling brave.

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This helps with boosting your creativity. This innovation's blueprint is a rule-breaking element inside a larger formal structure, such as the Mother Goose's Medley nursery rhyme:

"Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon."

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