As playwright David Mamet puts it,
“[Storytelling] is not… the communication of ideas but rather the inculcation in the audience of the instincts of the hunt.”
What keeps us engaged when consuming content is our brain’s constant desire and struggle to piece everything together to figure out what happens next, a phenomenon Robert McKee named “narrative drive”.
This process lies at the heart of dramatic writing, being why you just can’t put a good book down and why you binge whole seasons in one go.
Dramatic irony is a literary device in which the audience knows something the characters of a story don’t.
A story can create engagement by relying on narrative drive: making us curious about what happens next.
However, if we know the ending, the author can make us wonder how the events unfold.
This is pulled from the plays of ancient Greeks, who didn’t believe that knowing the ending of a story will spoil it. Most of their tragedies revolved around mythic heroes, whose fates were well-known.
What makes these stories tick instead is dramatic irony. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
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