Fictional Stories and the Art of Persuasion

Chapter two discusses the persuasion process. Pullman reviews how it is a long process and that it is something done everyday. He then proceeds to cover each concept that is involved in a persuasive act which takes into account the presentation of self, presentation of others, stereotypes, audiences, and emotions.

One especially compelling section of the reading was the stereotypes section. Pullman classifies stereotyping as a “generalization from weak or irrelevant data” (68). He then highlights that stereos means “firm” or “impression,” which explains why stereotypes so often seem to stick as an explanation of something. What was most interesting though, was Walter Lippmann’s meaning of stereotypes and why we use them.

Stereotypes are a method used to filter everything that happens in our lives. Similar to a previous discussion in logic, stereotypes are used because there is too much in the world to actually process and analyze everything. Essentially, they are a shortcuts. Lippmann also explains how he believes stereotypes are like fictional writing. I thought this was a very interesting take on stereotypes, especially as someone who reads fiction a lot because I could understand the relationship more. Stereotypes are just ideas, like fiction, of what real life is. There is usually not a deep analysis of something or someone. It is more of an assumption from what we can “see” and what we have previously experienced. Fiction writing is very similar in the way that a story is not real, but it is based on many stereotypes and experiences from life. This could also be why sometimes people find fictional stories unrealistic, because stereotypes and fiction are both weak representations of the universe. More over, the reading then discusses how personas are fictionalized representations. In other words, to persuade or be persuaded, fictional things have a big role in what works and what doesn’t work for persuasive acts. However, I did find it difficult to see the differences in personas and stereotypes since both are formed from generalized ideas of an audience. Do stereotypes represent groups while personas are single person representations? Can a stereotype, that isn’t well-known and broadly used, not be formed from just one experience and person? Are personas unethical to use in persuasion if they aren’t truly representing a person?

One final thought about the reading was Pullman’s coverage on emotions. Emotions contribute to almost everything a person does and it seems to be a leading factor in any persuasive situation.  Pullman provides a broad list of emotions that contribute to persuasion but I found the role they play with audience to be the most revealing. Pullman states that sometimes we only express our emotions when we know we have an audience and as an example of this, he discussed a toddler crying (89). I found this to be particularly interesting because, reading against the grain, I also think a lot of emotions do not want to be shown. Emotions like embarrassment, as an example, which would only become worse with a “group” present. Even though events and groups can alter emotions, sometimes, nothing will make you feel differently and, even more so, sometimes you do not want to express what you are feeling. Furthermore, what role do these secret or unchangeable emotions play in persuasion? Are they more influential than public emotions because another person cannot respond to the emotion and change their persuasion tactic?

All of these things that we experience in daily life, such as good character, stereotypes, and emotions, affect the way people persuade and are persuaded. Learning to recognize each will help with the analysis of any persuasive act.

One Reply to “Fictional Stories and the Art of Persuasion”

  1. So the difference between persona and stereotype is merely the type of data used to generate the impression, right? Persona attempts to generalize by means of assessing relevant, “true” data… Stereotype rests on unreliable, weak, or corrupted data?

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