Storytelling

Authorial Endorsement 101

Bilbo writing his book.

In Lord of the Rings, we mostly know Sauron is evil because Tolkein tells us.

For all the time we spend arguing about plot holes and magic systems, we spend even more time arguing about what a story means. Fiction can send a powerful message, but first we have to understand what that message is. That’s where authorial endorsement comes in. This concept is critical for both storytellers and audiences to understand, but it’s rarely identified for what it is. Instead, people tend to argue around it, sending critical discussion into unproductive circles. So today we’re going to pin authorial endorsement down and find out what it all means.

What Is Authorial Endorsement?

The Lorax standing on a platform labeled "Unless."

Have you ever read a story where the protagonist did something really distasteful, but when you went online to say you didn’t like that distasteful thing, someone else explains that you aren’t supposed to like it? If so, congratulations, you’ve just discussed authorial endorsement. Also, I’m sorry, that was probably a pretty unpleasant argument.

Authorial endorsement means the story supports a specific action or message. Sometimes this is easy to spot. We can all tell that Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax is endorsing environmental conservation. He speaks for the trees, after all. But does the Star Trek episode A Private Little War endorse military interventionism? Kirk and company do give weapons to a less advanced group of aliens who are fighting a war, and the Federation has a vested interest in that war’s outcome, but Kirk is sad when he does it, so who can say?*

Note that authorial endorsement is different from authorial intent. In most cases, it doesn’t matter what the author meant to say; it matters what’s on the page.* Authors can give their endorsement without ever meaning to, and even if they realize their mistake later, no amount of protesting their innocence will change what they wrote.

How Is Endorsement Bestowed?

Kirk giving a musket to the Hill People.

Now that we’ve covered what authorial endorsement is, we need to talk about how stories hand it out. As with so many abstract concepts, there are a lot of ways this can happen, but we’ll focus on the most common.

An Action Is Rewarded

If a protagonist in the story takes an action and it turns out well, the action has authorial endorsement. In the case of A Private Little War, it is clear that Kirk arming his faction of aliens will be an effective method of halting Klingon encroachment, protecting a less powerful culture from being conquered, and furthering Federation interests. Considering that this is the very justification used by American politicians to justify conflicts from Vietnam in the ’60s to Syria today, this is enough to put the episode firmly in the pro-intervention camp.

It’s also possible for actions to gain authorial endorsement through unintended consequences, as long as those consequences are positive. In season three of Stranger Things, Hopper is a huge jerk to Joyce, and then Joyce suddenly wants to date him. That wasn’t Hopper’s goal when he was being a jerk, but the positive outcome still gives his behavior authorial endorsement.

Both these dynamics flow from character karma, the idea that whether or not a protagonist succeeds depends on whether they make the right choice. Readers expect that if a hero succumbs to temptation, they’ll face consequences. If they take the high road even when it’s hard, they’ll be rewarded. Even if a protagonist’s actions are blatantly immoral, success makes it seem like the author wanted to reward them.

Respected Characters Give Support

If a character the story respects lends their support to an action or idea, then it has authorial endorsement. The audience looks to these characters for guidance in a story’s alien world, even if the story is set in the modern day. When those characters say something is good, we’re inclined to believe them.

Returning to A Private Little War, not only do we see that Kirk’s plan works, but it is supported by Kirk himself. Kirk is portrayed as a decisive and intelligent leader, so if he thinks this is the best option, it must be. Doctor McCoy does argue against the plan, but he does so from the position of an idealist who isn’t willing to make concessions to reality. Kirk overrules him, casting this as a hard choice that must be made for the greater good.

Characters are usually respected based on their intelligence, morals, insight, and accomplishments. Kirk draws the lion’s share of respect from his accomplishments, then from morals, and to a lesser extent from the other two categories. McCoy is also respected, mostly from his morals, but not to the same degree.

The Narrator Says So

A really obvious sign that something has authorial endorsement is when the narrator themself endorses it. This is especially true with a third-person omniscient narrator. As the name implies, these narrators know everything, and so if they say something, it is assumed to be true within the context of the story. You can see this in the novel Space Opera, where the premise is that every sapient species must prove its right to exist by competing in a music contest. That’s absurd, but the omniscient narrator still tells us this is a good system. That gives the Music Contest to Avoid Genocide unquestionable authorial endorsement.

Even if the narrator isn’t omniscient, their opinion carries a great deal of weight. In limited narration, the POV character is the narrator, and readers will trust that character unless they’re given a really good reason not to. This is doubly true if the POV character is the protagonist, which they usually are. Protagonists have to be likable, and if we like a character, we’ll usually take what they say at face value. When Kvothe from The Name of The Wind explains how easily he masters everything he tries, the idea that Kvothe is good at everything gains authorial endorsement.

Scene Framing

It’s also possible for the way a scene is set up and executed to bestow authorial endorsement, even if the characters and narrator never specifically comment on the issue in question. This comes up most often in visual mediums, since artists and filmmakers have more tools at their disposal than novelists, but it’s applicable to all stories.

If a scene is framed as funny, joyous, sad, or any other particular emotion, that’s a kind of authorial endorsement. Most of this goes by without notice. Of course a scene where the hero’s parents die is sad; why wouldn’t it be?

But then you have scenes like the cross-dressing sequence from Mulan. Even though the characters never say that men dressing in feminine clothing is inherently funny, the scene is set up to make us think that. The three men in question are all bumbling sidekicks. They’re funny because of what they do, not because they crack jokes or otherwise perform comedy. Even the fighting in that scene is framed as comedic, with the three men taking down their enemies with fruit rather than weapons. Mulan, the hero, fights with non-comedic martial arts, and her clothing is much more subdued, increasing the comedic contrasts with her friends’ courtesan garb. Meanwhile, Captain Shang, a very serious love interest, doesn’t get in on the cross-dressing at all. The message is clear: men wearing feminine clothing is supposed to be funny.

What Effect Does Endorsement Have?

Mercer and Grayson sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Now we know what authorial endorsement is and how it’s conveyed, so what’s the big deal? Why is this so important to understand? Mainly because what aspects a story endorses will determine how audiences view it, the effects of which can be split into two broad categories.

The Story’s Internal Logic

Authorial endorsement is really important for establishing the conceits of your story and your world. Even the grittiest, most down-to-earth stories operate on rules that differ from the real world, and it’s important for audiences to understand what those are. In Star Wars, it’s important for us to know that the Empire is evil long before the Death Star blows up Alderaan, and the film demonstrates that through scene setting and having characters like Luke and Obi-Wan just say the Empire is evil.

This can pose a problem when the story’s conceits veer too far away from reality, as we’re seeing more and more in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every new MCU film adds more heroes to the mix, until there are dozens just on Earth. But when noted smart-dude Nick Fury says that there are no other heroes available to help in Spider-Man: Far From Home, that clearly has authorial endorsement, even though it’s nonsense. Marvel will probably be fine, but blatant reality breaks like this drive sections of the audience away.

The Story’s Message

Next, there’s what message a story is sending, which is often harder to measure but is just as important. In most cases, authorial endorsement translates directly into the story’s message, so it’s important to be careful. When nearly every character in The Orville agrees that Mercer’s harassment of Grayson is understandable because Grayson cheated on him, including Grayson herself, it sends the message that men harassing women is fine as long as the woman did something wrong at some point.

The potential harm here is the same as it is with any toxic message. It’s not mind control – no one watching The Orville is forced to go and harass their ex – but it reinforces harmful ideas people already have. Men who treat women badly are validated by The Orville, and they’ll have even fewer qualms about their behavior. Besides, any woman who’s ever been bullied by her ex is likely to get the feeling that The Orville doesn’t want her viewership. I can’t think of many reasons a storyteller would want to reduce their potential audience like that.

Can I Avoid It With an Unreliable Narrator?

A Hover Car from the Novel Too Light the Lighting.

Probably not. Moving on…

Okay, seriously, this is an idea I see a lot, that an author can’t be endorsing something because the narration is unreliable. Anything harmful or illogical can supposedly be written off as a quirk of the narrator. While it is technically possible for this strategy to work, few stories I know of have ever pulled it off. Consider the novel Too Like the Lightning, a Hugo finalist from 2016.

Content Notice: Discussion of sexual violence in fiction.

In this story, two characters break into an elite sex club and are grabbed by club security, who then gleefully threaten to rape them. This is played as kind of sexy, gross as that is. Then another character shows up and assures us that those security goons wouldn’t really have raped anyone; they just get their kicks by threatening to rape people. Okay? The book then muddies even this pitiful defense by hurrying the characters away before the goons can do… something bad. So, how much of a threat they actually were is left an open question.

Later, a character tries to argue that this sex club is in fact bad, which seems obvious, and half a dozen other characters, many of whom have been portrayed with those respect-granting properties from earlier, all explain that he’s wrong. This sex club with rape guards is great and anyone who disagrees is a sex-negative prude. Even the narrator, a fellow named Mycroft, gets in on the action. Clearly, the rape guards have authorial endorsement.

Now, we know Mycroft is at times an unreliable narrator. He’s been shown to have a bias in the past and has even been corrected by other narrators. But we have no reason to think he’s lying in this particular instance, and even if he is later shown to be, what would be the point? Best-case scenario, we have a book that for a while is perfect happy to say that rape guards are good, then later says they’re bad. Really groundbreaking thought right there.

Too Like the Lightning is an extreme example, to be sure, but it shows how you can’t count on the mere presence of an unreliable narrator to remove authorial endorsement. The unreliability has to be demonstrated clearly in the moment, something that interrupts the flow of the story in a way most authors don’t want.

How Are Villains Different?

Ozymandias from the comic Watchmen.

Villains represent a major curve ball in the field of authorial endorsement. All things being equal, a villain doing something or supporting an idea does not convey authorial endorsement on a moral level. In Star Wars, we’re not left thinking that it was good for the Empire to blow up Alderaan just because Vader and Tarkin were into it. This is really important, since otherwise it would be difficult to generate conflict without sending bad messages.

This doesn’t mean villains can’t send problematic messages, of course. They can normalize bigoted behavior, and they can play into the same toxic tropes as any other character. One reason I talk about torture so often is that even if a villain is doing the torturing, it can still send the message that torture is a reliable way of extracting accurate information. That’s a harmful message no matter who is doing it.

These rules change yet again if a villain is meant to be sympathetic, if they’re trying to achieve good ends through evil means, or any other type of villain who seems to “have a point.” Consider Ozymandias from the graphic novel Watchmen. He kills half the people in New York City with a giant psychic squid monster, which is bad. But he’s got a noble goal: creating world peace. Within the story, it seems like his plan is going to work. His squid attack convinces everyone in the world to unite so they can defend themselves from further possible squid attacks. The only possible hang-up is that the famously unstable Rorschach drops off his version of events with a newspaper, but we don’t see the results.

That’s some pretty strong authorial endorsement. Whether you consider it a problem depends on if you think there are a lot of people out there with bad ideas that this would reinforce. That question is beyond the scope of this article, but it illustrates that you can’t simply count on a villain to dispel endorsement.

Can Authorial Endorsement Be Removed?

The cave duel from Empire Strikes Back.

Under the right circumstances, it is possible to have your protagonist do something without granting it authorial endorsement. This is particularly important for growth arcs, because the hero typically needs to have some negative trait that they then grow out of.

The most immediate way to withdraw authorial endorsement is to have a character’s action fail or have major negative consequences. In The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke runs off to face Vader with incomplete training, it blows up in his face. This is a major part of Luke’s arc toward becoming less overconfident. It’s clear to viewers that this was a bad idea.

Another option is to have a respected character speak out against whatever the hero is doing. Empire Strikes Back also has this with Yoda and Obi-Wan both telling Luke not to go, but this method is especially useful in situations where the outcome of an action isn’t immediately obvious. In the novel The Curse of Chalion, the main character Cazaril is extremely self-deprecating, but we quickly hear several other characters explain that he is in fact very competent. This is important to Cazaril’s arc of recovering from trauma and learning to value himself. If you’re using an omniscient narrator, you can also just say a character’s actions are bad, the way Lewis does for Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

It’s important to remember that any effort to remove authorial endorsement has limits. If a wise mentor cautions against an action, but then that action succeeds without a hitch, it probably has authorial endorsement. This is a major problem in Legend of Korra’s first three seasons. The titular Korra is always being warned not to rush in and solve her problems with violence, but she does so anyway, and it always works.

At the same time, removing authorial endorsement is not a free pass on a hero’s actions. Even if you make it clear that audiences aren’t supposed to like it when your protagonists kills puppies, they’re still killing puppies. It’ll be hard to come back from that no matter how many redemption arcs you craft.


While understanding authorial endorsement would certainly make online discourse more pleasant, the people who really need to understand it are authors themselves. We need to be aware of what we’re saying when we write our main characters and sympathetic villains. If we don’t, our stories can quickly get away from us, which can both hurt our sales and play into some really harmful tropes.

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Comments

  1. Dvärghundspossen

    Good article again! Just adding something I’ve already discussed in various places on Mythcreants: Sometimes a story presents behaviour X as bad, and the protagonist has an arch where he learns better than to do X. But it can still be off-putting if X is something TERRIBLE, whereas it’s presented as only somewhat bad.

  2. Adam Reynolds

    This is a bit oddly specific, but one issue I was thinking about is how to portray a solid character focused story without endorsing the “great man” theory of history that so many stories wind up indirectly promoting. The problem is that even when there is a desire not to do this, it is easy to wind up doing this by accident, because the focus on the main hero that solves a problem is sort of the same idea as the “great man” theory.

    One option that occurs to me is that of allowing non-POV characters to carry out significant actions, but that has the problem of telling instead of showing.

    Another case of problematic endorsement is about the use of guns, in which it is all to easy to portray heroic gunslingers in a way that is far from heroic when it happens in the real world.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah that can be tricky. Though I do think it’s possible to show a hero as part of a greater whole without taking away agency, especially if you’re telling a story where the Great Man Theory could be a problem. If your characters are making big societal changes, there should be room to show how the protagonist could only succeed with the help of others, but they still needed to be there.

      With gun violence, oh boy that one is tricky. I tend to think that simply showing gun violence isn’t necessarily a problem, as there are some legitimate cases where deadly force is justified, but I stay far away from any depictions of gun violence as fun or inherently heroic. Like that scene in Ragnarok where Carl Urban’s character is does a last stand that’s basically an NRA commercial.

    • E. H.

      The “great man”(or woman) could learn that any permanent reforms they make require serious institutional changes to last after their death, if they are kicked out of power, or even if they aren’t there to supervise everything.

      If they don’t learn this, then finish the story with an epilogue about how the kind, wise Emperor reigned for 50 years and the land prospered and all were treated well…..then everything went to hell when he had a stroke because the next one was still free to do whatever he wanted and was a real jerk.

  3. E. H.

    I think there’s accidental endorsement where the creator should have seen it coming and appropriation of a popular product to serve an agenda.

    Example (1) They Live.
    Yes it’s a lot of fun and the aliens were supposed to be a metaphor for unrestrained capitalism. But on a surface level it can easily be taken as a story about purging society of genetic outsiders among “us”. Despite the hero’s sidekick being African American, it’s supposedly popular among racists.

    Problems in the actual story make this possible. To one example, if the aliens are the “elite” why are they so well represented among street cops and ordinary workers? The messge also implies, I’m sure by accident, that we aren’t responsible for our own political and economic systems as they’re run by the Other.

    Example (2) The Matrix.
    I have a problem with some of the gratuitous violence against innocent humans who mistakenly support the oppressive AIs.

    But racial diversity is clearly presented as a positive. Women are portrayed as competent. The bad situation humans are in is originally their own fault. The basic values of the story are spreading enlightenment and freedom.

    But even so, bigots and conspiracy theorists have chosen to claim it as their own. The story didn’t do right by Trinity, but she’s used to explicitly promote anti-sexist views. Still sexists claim to have been “red pilled” when they discover the “truth”. So do racists even though the guy dispensing the red pill was African American.

    I see this as people intentionally appropriating a mostly good story for bad purposes that are obviously contradicted by what you see on the screen.

    • Bunny

      I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had here concerning death of the author, intentionality, and reading into things. Tolkien, for example, despised allegory, and disliked when people read it into his work. However, LoTR contains many parallels to WW1, among other things, which people have identified and analyzed whether Tolkien inserted them knowingly or not. He didn’t endorse this view but it has become a part of the discourse nonetheless.

      There are also lots of cases in media wherein a thing is depicted as bad and yet people still idolize the thing. Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin is an example of this – a parody was taken seriously and found sympathetic by those on its receiving end. Another example, which I’m going to lift from Lindsay Ellis’s video essay on Mel Brooks, is American History X. Even though Nazi-ism is depicted as negative and bad, neo-Nazi viewers put the Nazi character on a pedestal to idolize because “Yeah, Nazi-ism is bad, but isn’t also kind of … badass?” (to quote Lindsay.) In this case, I think the issue lies in the way the cinematography portrayed Nazi-ism as rebellious and dangerous, which certain viewers found attractive in spite of the greater context.

      With the red-pill thing, I’m not sure the filmmakers could have done anything to prevent the term from being lifted and used by misogynists. In this case the term was taken completely out of context. To, say, incels, it doesn’t matter that women in the film are depicted as strong and competent. They’ve taken what the red pill represents (stripping away a greater lie) and weaponized it into terminology for their worldview rather than taking what it specifically meant in the movie, which is leaving the Matrix. I don’t know how anybody could’ve seen this coming or prevented it – or whether it could have been prevented.

      In these examples the intentionality matters little, and for the purpose of those appropriating the material, the author is dead. Does that mean it’s endorsed? Was there a way to portray Nazi-ism in AHX that could enable them to tell the same cautionary tale but not gain the Nazi character neo-Nazi supporters? Could Tina Fey have predicted how Palin followers would view her parody? Could Tolkien have prevented readers interpreting WW1 allegory in his work? Is there a way any of these creators could’ve negated their unfortunate outcomes? I don’t know. I don’t know where the lines are in DoTA or intentionality or anything, or whether there even are lines. I just think it’s interesting how this all fits into the greater conversation.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        I think Tolkien’s standpoint on allegory was a bit more nuanced – he thought it’s fine that there are parallells between stories and things in real life, fine and probably unavoidable. But he didn’t like such BLATANT allegories as, say, Animal Farm; he thought that if you wanna write a story about the Russian revolution, just go ahead and write about the Russian revolution.

        I’m with Tolkien on this one. (I’m not saying I’m right and everyone who likes stuff like Animal Farm are wrong though; this is just my opinion.)

        • E. H.

          I dont mind allegory if it’s a fairly short book and it’s written well. A fairly short book at most. Works better in a fable or fairy tale. Would be terrible in a vast Tolkien style epic.

          I think Animal Farm is good because while it represents the Russian Revolution it also shows how any movement can be corrupted. The simple story gets to the heart of abstract matters. If we accept the premise of sapient farm animals able to compete with humans it has internal logic.

          In a lot of religious allegory there isn’t enough logical consistency for it to work as a story. John Bunyan was the worst offender I know of in the literary canon.

          The characters do what they do merely to fulfill their allegorical roles without taking into account whether for example a warrior trying to win a battle would act like this or not.

  4. I. W. Ferguson

    I don’t have anything to add to the conversation other than to say thanks for a great article. I’ve read a lot of ‘howto’ books for writers, and never saw this spelled out. It’s very helpful.

  5. Brett Minor

    I see your point, but too often stories are overanalyzed. Sometimes, a story is just a story. There was no intent or lesson being taught. It is just playing out the way it plays out for purely entertainment value.

    In Stranger Things, yes, Joyce begins to be attracted to Hopper. However, that does not mean his behavior was being endorsed by the authors. Will’s father was an abusive jerk. And other than Sean Astin’s character as her boyfriend in season 2, we don’t know much about her dating history.

    It seems completely plausible to me that she may be drawn to domineering or even abusive relationships (as unhealthy as that definitely is). Joyce is a deeply flawed person with some deep-seated issues that were present even BEFORE she had to live through the hell of the first two seasons of the show. This attraction did not feel like a reward or endorsement of his poor behavior. It was just what happened. As we all have seen illustrated in life hundreds of times.

    There will always be people who will sit and pull a story apart regardless of how well it is written. As an author, I cannot worry about how every word or action might be perceived. I make sure that my characters behave in a fashion that is “in character” with the personality I have created. That’s all I can do.

  6. Tifa

    Stories are never “just” stories. They have the power to shape how people see reality, for good or ill.

    • Mystery

      People should not use fiction to shape their worldview. Healthy people should realise that fiction is not like real life and that it should be used only for entertainment.

      • Cay Reet

        Nevertheless, we are all shaped by stories, be they fairy tales or ‘how I became a millionaire and for only $19.99 so can you.’ It’s not for nothing that Terry Pratchett (May The Clacks Forever Carry His Name) has referred to humans as ‘pan narrans’ (the story-telling ape) in “The Science of Discworld.”

        • Mystery

          I think it’s alright for people to get inspiration from fiction and if fiction motivates people to research and topic further, for example a novel about an addict motivativating readers to research drug addiction, it can be a good thing. But I find the idea that people should use fictional characters as role models and use fiction to shape their views of people and morality problematic, especially when applied to fantasy, science fiction, etc. For example in paranormal romance it may be acceptable for characters to fall in love very quickly and get married because they are soulmates. However if teenagers used these relationships as models for their own, they would likely be divorced and involved in domestic violence, so they should understand that romance novels are not meant to be realistic and look to responsible adults and lists of domestic violence red flags as for education about what relationships should and shouldn’t be like.

          • Cay Reet

            This is not about people consciously taking fictional characters as role models, that happens rarely. This is about how stories shape the way we think, the way we expect the world to work, the things we consider right and wrong.

            By only showing people from certain backgrounds in specific roles, stories establish that those people can’t be anything else. It’s not a conscious thing, but if the only way you see, for instance, women portayed is as love interests, damsels, or side characters, you will find it weird and wrong at some point, if someone puts a woman in the leading role and has her be independent and not in need of either a lover or a saviour. Stories told you that’s not ‘how women work.’

            Romance novels do indeed leed to women subconsciously buying into that ‘a bad man can be saved’ thing, because a lot of them show how love can change the male lead (who can be a bit of a jerk at the beginning). They’re one reason why even today (with divorce not being considered amoral or forbidden) women stay with an abusive husband (men staying with an abusive wife is a little different – here it’s our story-enforced idea of masculinity which makes it impossible for a man to admit he’s being abused).

            Human understanding is shaped by stories, which is why we tell children fairy tales where the good always win – to teach them that to be bad will lead to trouble, but good behaviour will be rewarded. From then onwards, stories shape our understanding of the world, of society, of good and evil, and many other things. Those ‘stories’ can be scientific facts, but even those get ‘told’ in textbooks. And we can see how a scientific fact can get watered down at first, for younger children, then added to over time, until students at university get the full dose of it, no longer watered down. Because this is how human minds learn, by processing ‘stories.’

  7. Mystery

    I agree that it is offensive to glamorise domestic violence and to portray things that are racist, misogynistic, etc, as good because doing so is to disrespect victims and members of marginalised groups. I just feel that people should be taught from a young age to understand that facts, rules and responsible adults are better sources of morality education than fiction. This may help people to make a conscious effort to avoid the subconscious desire to allow fiction to have more influence over their morality than those other things. In this day and age, with fake news and alternative facts, it is more important than ever to teach the difference between fiction and fact and for society to use facts and empathy ( How would you feel if you were her ) to educate.

    • Cay Reet

      Here you have your first problem ‘…and responsible adults are better sources of morality education than fiction.’ Who determines which adults are responsible and which are not? At first glance, the parents should certainly be the responsible adults who can educate the children, but children who grow up in fundamentalist families are educated, naturally, in the morality of that group – which might be far from a good education. Who defines rules? In Nazi Germany, it was a rule that you told the state when you learned that someone hid Jews in their home. It was legal, it was required, it was considered the ‘responsible’ way to do – yet it was morally wrong. What I want to point out here is that rules are not always good, and not every adult who seems responsible is responsible. The history of science also tells us that what is scientific fact today might no longer be scientific fact in fifty or a hundred years.

      In addition, you will not change the fact that humans are by nature learning through storytelling. We teach children not by just lining up equations and dry lists of facts. We teach them, because this is the way they learn, by putting these facts into context – into stories. ‘How would you feel…?’ only works because stories teach us empathy, teach us to see the world through other eyes. We can only enjoy media, because we work like that. The only way to teach people about gravity is to tell them why objects fall to the ground on earth (and why they fall differently on the moon), not to show them the equations which a physicist uses to describe gravity.

      I can see where you’re coming from, believe me, but the way human minds are wired, they only work through stories – even to tell people facts, you need to tell them something, you can’t just give them a bullet list with the facts as a such. Language alone means that you need to tell things … that you need to wrap a fact in words to convey its meaning to someone else.

      Humans automatically learn to distinguish fact from fiction during childhood (as soon as around age 5, I believe), but the underlying plots of stories, the tropes and the archetypes, have an impact on how we see the world. We can’t understand pure facts, we need context – and that is provided by stories, whether they be fairy tales, scientific articles, or other media.

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