We usually don’t speak of critical thinking and storytelling in the same breath.
But critical thinking is key to storytelling in a number of ways. Before we explore them, it might be best to review what we mean by critical thinking in the first place.
In short, critical thinking is an approach to determining whether something is true or not, whether or not we can believe it. Google’s dictionary defines it like this:
“the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement”
Critical thinking is scientific, in that it relies upon both logic and empirical evidence. If your reasoning is wrong or your facts are wrong, whatever you’re proposing is not credible. An assertion is scientific if and only if it’s falsifiable.
Critical thinking is also about abstract thinking. We look at evidence presented to us and tease out an underlying proposition or argument.
With that general overview, let’s take a look a how critical thinking is key to storytelling.
Critical Thinking And Storytelling are Both About Logic
Effective stories have a forward momentum. One thing leads logically to the next. Even in fantasy or science fiction stories, where the “facts” might be imaginative, it’s imperative that the logic remains airtight. And in nonfiction, not only must the logic work but the facts too must be accurate and verifiable or the story will fall apart.
Critical Thinking And Storytelling Are Both About Arguments
When you study critical thinking, you spend a lot of time exploring logical fallacies. These are rhetorical devices that make an assertion appear to make sense but on closer inspection are shown to be logically flawed.
There’s a whole host of them and they have wonderful Latin names like Argument Ad Homimen, Argumentum ad Populum and Argumentum Ad Misericordiam.
The point here is that they’re all about arguments, or more accurately, about logically erroneous ones.
Storytelling too is a about an argument. A story proposes something, asserts something, argues something. That argument can usually be summed up in what one might call the “moral” of the story.
Critical Thinking And Storytelling Are Both About Abstraction
When creating a story, whether it’s a novel, a marketing video or a PowerPoint presentation, the toughest part is abstracting a central unifying idea from the swirl of ideas and facts that one might begin with. Often the “evidence” might suggest a number of different stories. As a storyteller your job is to choose one of those stories and edit out anything and everything that does not support it. And as I discuss at length in my storytelling courses, you’re also tasked to create the proper structure which too demands abstract analysis.
Critical Thinking Is Not The Whole Story, But It Plays A Big Part
When we think of stories and storytelling, and the creativity demanded to generate them, it’s easy to consider the process as a right-brain activity. (That’s the one we think of as the “imaginative” or “emotional” side.) After all, we want our stories to be not only persuasive, but emotionally engaging.
But the way to get there is not simply by being “authentic” or “emotional,” but by employing critical thinking to isolate a unifying idea and craft a coherent structure that will ultimately move your audience.