There are two things to look for in every piece of writing:
1) The narrative
2) The message
If someone presents us with an unadorned message, it has no impact.
Consider this short article by Derek Sivers, called “Change careers like Tarzan”. It’s about making the transitioning between careers.
If he had solely said, “Don’t quit your career until your new one supports you”, I doubt it would have been as powerful. The message on it’s own is unappealing.
But wrap that message in a narrative of a man swinging through the jungle in a loin cloth? Then you get impact.
The narrative entertains. The message informs. Together, they resonate.
Another way to look at it is through the notion of signal versus noise.
Signal is the message. Noise is the narrative.
In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb describes something called stochastic resonance:
“…adding random noise to the background makes you hear the sounds (say, music) with more accuracy … Weak SOS signals, too weak to get picked up by remote receptors, can become audible in the presence of background noise and random interference.”
The analogy isn’t perfect. Taleb is talking about random noise. In the case of spreading a message, the narrative obviously has to be relevant in some way.
Another way to envision it is as a trojan horse. The message you are trying to send is the Greek soldiers. Alone they cannot gain entry to the city. But disguised within the horse they can penetrate right to the heart.
A story alone can have value. A message alone will not spread.
But a message wrapped in a compelling narrative has force that rivals the waves of Mother Nature’s tsunamis.