The 45/45/10 Formula for narrative/argument is one of the perpetual bees bumbling around my bonnet.This video for this song is such a stone cold perfect example (and, subsequently, so rhetorically devastating) that I just had to share.PRO-TIP: The first two-and-a-half minutes will likely be almost unbearable to watch for most white Americans.If it helps, know that Joyner Lucas (the musician and the voice you hear throughout the song) is black (although not the black guy in the video).
At any rate, to review my 45/45/10 Formula:
The first 45% of a piece is the Setup: Characters/concepts/situations/dynamics are presented and relationships among these made clear
The next 45% is the Tangle: Complication(s) disrupt (or at least complicate) the situation laid out in the Setup
The last 10% is the Resolution: The knot is Untangled, for better or worse
In the case of this track, the Setup runs from the open to ~2:50. The Tangle then runs to ~5:50, and from that point to the cut to black is the Resolution. What especially thrills me here—beyond the hard body impact of the rhetoric itself and the lean power of the videography—is how shifts in the music mark out the transitions between stages in the argument: Each section break is marked out be an abrupt shift in the tone and mood of the backing track.
This is a wonderful primer on how to structure an narrative argument to hold an audience and not persuade them, per se—because that’s not the goal—but rather to enduringly stick in their craw, so they keep troubling over your argument long after they’re done with the piece of entertainment.This is how you write moral fiction.This is how you plant the seeds that grow the trees that, indefatigably and seemingly effortlessly, bend the arc of that moral universe back toward justice.
And that, kids, is our business.Go, watch … and learn.
This is a tremendous example of practical rhetoric: understanding an audience deeply and meeting them where they are—without assumptions or bias—so you can guide their thinking in a way that’s a win for everyone. If there was ever an example of “white-hat marketing,” then this is it: “Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children”
“State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street.
“Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
“Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.
“Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
“Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
“Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
“Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
“Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
“Rephrase your idea a ﬁnal time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.
I write and have written all sorts of things (DIY books and essays and textbooks and book reviews and reference articles and newspaper stories and business columns and fiction and blah, blah, blah). For the last decade most of my money has come from writing marketing copy. If you’re covering your bills that way, then you quickly learn the First Noble Truth of Marketing:
You need to meet people where they are.
You cannot “create demand,” only meet it. You cannot “educate customers,” only furnish names for things they already feel in their hearts. Everyone is busy and distractible. Everyone hates ads and hates marketing. They have absolutely no desire to bother figuring you out; you need to figure them out and talk to them where they are.
And once you grok that First Noble Truth, you instantly understand the Second Noble Truth of Marketing:
All writing—every article, every story, every poem, every email—is marketing; no one has the desire to squander their energy figuring you out. You must meet them where they are.
And once you meet them, you can take them where you two need to go together.