Storytellers understood nudge theory long before Richard Thaler got the Nobel Prize for it. They call it allegory: an extended metaphor, a parallel meaning, a disguised second narrative. It allows writers to tackle profound issues without seeming to lecture. It allows them to subtly (not always) ‘nudge’ readers into questioning their assumptions and prejudices.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was a best seller and is a classic. Had he decoded it, writing instead about the innate savagery of human nature just beneath the surface of civilising society, it would be neither. But allegory isn’t just a device to nudge the reader into thinking more deeply about issues, it can also help the writer.
Novels are a daunting challenge. Over a lengthy narrative, it’s easy to lose focus and one’s way; to fizzle out at the end when the novel should climax. Clarity on themes and a parallel disguised narrative helps prevent that. Helps the plotting process.
Golding’s parallel narrative forced him to contrive a situation where innocents (children) are removed from civilising society (marooned on a deserted island) so the reader can watch their savagery emerge and escalate to murderous proportions, only halted by the re-emergence of civilisation in the form of rescue. The dramatic arc is all there; he couldn’t get lost.
In my own book Conjuring the Blood the hidden narrative is about integration being at the heart of tolerance. To make the allegory work, an Islamist and Islamophobe who would normally avoid each other, are forced to work together to find and save their children (held hostage by terrorists). By degree they can’t help but confront their prejudices. Hate becomes understanding and finally, friendship. An act of sacrifice for a friend is the climax. Again, the allegory defines the dramatic arc of the whole book. I always knew exactly where I was heading.
Anyway, coming back to the ‘nudge’ theory—have you bought my book yet?
Book review/recommendation: (you guessed) Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
It’s got adventure. It’s got violence and kids in peril. It’s a fabulously well-crafted tale with a chilling message. If you’re interested in writing, it’s a must read.