Illustration from Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Tanglewood Tales' c. 1921 (Image: Virginia Frances Sterrett/Public Domain)
From ancient myths to modern novels, we humans love a good story. Aristotle famously observed that a plot has a beginning, middle, and end— what other patterns might be at play?
 
In a new issue of PLOS One dedicated to the “science of stories," guest-editors Mirta Galesic (SFI), Peter Dodds (University of Vermont), Mohit Iyyer (UMass Amherst), and Matthew Jockers (Washington State University) collect examples of emerging computational approaches that could add a new dimension to narrative analysis.
 
Galesic, who is Cowan Chair for Human Social Dynamics at SFI, tells PLOS: "Computational approaches, when combined with a deep understanding of the story and its cultural and historical context, can tell their own story: a detailed, moment-by-moment analysis of semantic and emotional narratives, their internal dynamics, and their similarities and differences when compared to stories of other authors, cultures, and times.” She also notes that computational analyses aren't intended to replace more traditional, in-depth qualitative analyses, though they may be able to validate qualitative predictions.
 
The issue launched on February 3 with a collection of 15 papers that “[illustrate] data-driven approaches to understanding stories and their impact.” According to the editors, "some articles explore the nature of narrative and narrative thinking… other articles present new methods to extract stories from datasets and datasets from stories… a third group of papers analyze how narratives are transformed and how they can transform people…[and] a final group of papers explores the communication of data-rich narratives to the public.”
 
Galesic also notes that the collection is still growing and is open for new submissions. 
 
Read the issue, “Science of Stories,” in PLOS One (February 3, 2020)
 
Read a Q&A with the guest editors on the PLOS Blog (April 25, 2019)
 
Listen to “Why do stories matter?” With Mirta Galesic on the BBC’s Why Factor (April 1, 2019)