Storytelling Loops

Image source:  albert_debruijn
Image source: albert_debruijn

I recently came across Frank Chimero’s blog post on public speaking suggestions which I would recommend you check out. One of his suggestions was for speakers to ‘go in loops’. He said that

“It’s nice to come back to a thread that you dropped. Use recurring themes in your examples. Develop a thought to a question, say “I’m going to leave that question hanging for a bit,” then start somewhere else, and eventually link the new place to the hanging question’s answer. I’m sure you can think of a bunch of other ways to do this. Leaving loops open creates anticipation. Resolving them creates closure. Both are necessary for a good talk.”

The creators of successful TV shows such as House, Dexter, Lost, Mad Men, Homeland, Prison Break, Ray Donovan, Game of Thrones etc employ the technique of nested loops advocated by Frank Chimero to keep us glued and addicted to their shows.

Nested loops in shows tend to operate by introducing three or four concurrent plots within an episode. The first plot is introduced at the beginning of the episode and then stopped at a point of high emotional tension to start plot 2. There is another breakaway at crucial point in plot 2 to introduce plot 3 etc. The creators then proceed to resolve each plot and the choice of which plot to resolve depends on what helps move the story forward. One plot is usually left unresolved at the end of the episode as a cliff-hanger to keep you hooked for the next episode.

A master of nested loops in terms of public speaking and writing is Malcolm Gladwell. His presentations and books/articles are crafted to hook you from start to finish. He employs specially selected stories to engage and persuade his audience.

Gladwell’s 2004 article titled “The Picture Problem” is a nested loop of two different topics (military warfare and mammography) connected by a single theme (perception). Read the story to see how Gladwell employed the nested loop structure to write it up.

If you have the time, you should also watch his 2013 New Yorker Conference presentation in which he also employs a nested loop storytelling approach to talk about illicit tactics the powerful use to stay in control.

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