Messaging vs. Narrative

What is the difference between narrative and messaging and how does that impact the way you plan and write your op-ed?

One of the main reasons that op-eds have been the gold standard for making narrative change is that at their core, they’re conveying a problem and making an argument for a solution that influences both audiences and people in power. Before you put pen to paper to craft your argument, you want to be clear on what is the one thing you want readers to remember from your piece. That idea is your message and that message is attached to a bigger idea: the narrative you’re trying to uplift.

These messages with similar themes repeated by different people across different platforms and mediums create a narrative that shapes how people think and act on an issue. Messages are trees in the narrative forest. A tree can stand on its own or among a small group of trees, but it’s not a forest until the trees have reached a critical mass. The same is true for messages and narratives.

One message or a handful of messages with similar themes can reach some folks, but when those messages are repeated not only in op-eds, but in places of worship, mosques, visual art, small and big screens, social media, comments sections, in conversations at the grocery store, they become so ubiquitous that they transform from little “t” to big “T” truths . . . that’s narrative. When narrative change happens.

You want your message (idea) not only to resonate with readers, but to uplift your long-term narrative goals and illustrate your argument. You can share all the data in the world, but until there’s a story that connects a face to the numbers, most people won’t be moved to action. In a perfect world, the data could speak for itself but that’s just not our reality. Connecting with and empathizing with other human beings is what expands people’s circle of concern and has the power to move them to take action. That action can be showing up at a rally or having a conversation with a neighbor or a friend; both are equally important for narrative change.

So what does all this mean for your op-ed? Simply put, your message needs to be embedded in the story you’re telling and that message should implicitly or explicitly speak to the helpful narrative you want to see in the world.

Download this narrative and messaging worksheet that can help you lay out what you want to say and how it connects to your story and narrative goals.

Categories: Frameworks

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