Fate is a concept used in storytelling in both fiction and real-life narratives. The idea that something was ‘meant to be’ comes via a series of signals that we focus in on and draw conclusions about that map out into a route or journey, which leads us somewhere ultimately fulfilling or meaningful. 

The Red Thread in Narratives 

The concept of fate relies on a certain level of spiritualism, not necessarily religious in form, but a belief that the universe has some control over destiny–that our agency is only one factor in the messy pathway to a specific point in life. 

In several Asian cultures, there’s a story relating to a red thread. In general, it is a myth about finding a soul mate. A red thread is tied to a body appendage of a destined couple. In China, around the ankles, in Japan, it bonds the male thumb to the female little finger, and in Korea, both little fingers are joined. The couple may tangle, stretch or knot the thread, but it will never break, and they will one day meet and marry. The thread is red to symbolise happiness. It’s a story filled with promise and comfort: there is someone out there for everyone.

In Greek mythology, Theseus rescued himself out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur by following a red thread given to him by Ariadne. In Scandinavia, the ‘röda tråden’ has become a metaphor in art that equates to our idea of a common denominator. A red thread that draws disparate ideas together into a coherent whole. 

The typical feature of the red thread across all these cultures is that the thread itself is a tangible object that helps us follow a path through a narrative. 

The Line of Fate in Art

Leo Sternberg wrote an essay called The Line of Fate in Michelangelo’s Painting in 1980. He discussed why Michelangelo’s painting of The Crucifixion of St. Peter was superior to its copycats because of the painter’s nuanced construction of narratives depicted in the scene.

He argues that by painting the beam of the cross transversing the centre of the image, he draws a line of fate between heaven and hell for the protagonist: St Peter. The painter even omits body parts or clothing from actors in the scene and adds narrative gestures to accentuate this diagonal and not distract viewers from its ultimate message. 

Michelangelo created this wall-sized fresco for the Cappella Paolina, newly built in the 1540s, to adjoin the Vatican’s chapel designed for the staging of papal elections. Its decoration had to address the practical meaning of the proceedings, Christ’s grant of authority to the Church. Everyone thought he would represent St Peter receiving the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, he focused on the moral decision Peter would make for every one of us at the pearly gates, regardless of our status within the Church. Arguably, a far more effective and chilling reminder of the responsibility held by any future Pope. You can see the painting fully restored in situ here.

Like the red thread, Sternberg’s Line of Fate points out how a simple line with a vanishing point perspective gives us a sense of narrative that pivots around a character’s destiny.  

Why We Like Tangible Metaphors

A mirror neurone is an amazing adaptive piece of technology in the brain. It’s a neurone that fires both when an animal or human acts and when the animal or human observes the same action performed by another. This is why we feel such excitement when watching sports. 

Have you ever watched a ball play across a Football field towards a goal, only to find yourself beginning to stand up from your seat, heart racing, shouting to come on, come on? Then you feel the elation or disappointment of fulfilment of your expectation? In this case, your mirror neurones are firing the same physical pathways as the footballer in the field whose responsibility is to score once the ball is at his feet. Your mind is mirroring his body. You see the decisions he makes and feel the feelings he feels, so you share his glory if he succeeds. 

Mirror neurones are also responsible for language development. They map the muscle synapsis our parents’ lips, tongue and cheeks fire to pronounce certain sounds, and at a very early age, we begin to try those maps out on our own faces. Da-da-da or Mu-mu-mu-mum sounds become associated with certain people. We begin to relate sounds to words and words to objects and so on until we’ve mastered speaking. Often before we can draw a face or tie a shoelace. 

Neuroscientists debate the exact influence of mirror neurones; regardless, research has shown that imitation is vital in social and emotional learning, whatever part of the brain it comes from. This role-modelling is the way we learn the nuances and complexity of human behaviour and emotion. It’s how we experience thing before doing them and it’s why we like reading about people doing hard things (stories).  

 

“The neocortex, the part of our brain that makes us most uniquely human, comes least ‘pre-programmed’ when we are born. Particularly in the early years of our lives, it fills rapidly with ‘information’ specific to our society and culture, allowing us to navigate our social world and ‘fit in’ with the customs and beliefs of the people around us. It makes sense that in the time of our ancient ancestors’ knowledge transfer only happened via social mechanisms, passing understanding on from generation to generation through watching, doing and storytelling.” – Science Focus

 

The neocortex is where mirror neurones are located. If the very bit of our brain that is most susceptible to change (the least pre-programmed part at birth) is also the most attentive to stories then a metaphor about following a thread or line to a fulfilling goal is handy. It gives us a physical pathway to test our future actions. We can all easily imagine picking up a thread and following it. That, in turn, takes the pressure off each weighty decision we make and puts us in the hands of an omnipresent spiritual concept like ‘the universe,’ God, fate, destiny, a fortune teller. That relief from pressure is very seductive.

Conversely, if there is a controlling force that you don’t understand affecting your role in life, the understandable emotional reaction is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of losing control. So it allows you to learn from other people’s pathways and takes the moral pressure of decision making, but it leaves you feeling susceptible. 

That’s why these stories have positive outcomes. We need to believe in benevolent spirits. When life throws us a curveball, it’s comforting to think that there is something as tangible as a string that connects us to a person who can make us happy (like the red thread) or a moral path we are on (like God’s plan for St Peter) that is handed to us by a well-meaning deity. 

The Red Thread in Marketing Communications

Marketing strategist Tamsen Webster developed her Red Thread technique to draw an audience and get them to understand your ideas. The thread is a strategy that provides a constant underlying theme throughout all your marketing and business activities. It connects everything that you do; your campaigns, product, and messaging. 

It connects the dots for the customer between your marketing touch-points, websites, social media, blogs, newsletters, and physical marketing materials like posters and print adverts. Anywhere a new customer may come across your brand, they should get hold of this tangible thread. 

During development, the strategy looks something like this: 

👉🏻 A customer GOAL

👉🏻 oh no! — a PROBLEM that prevents you from reaching it.  

👉🏻 Here’s the TRUTH hon…

👉🏻 It’s ok to CHANGE 

👉🏻 Here’s how you take the ACTION required to make things different. 

👉🏻 Ta-Da! You’ve met your GOAL. You are in a fulfilling, meaningful place 🙂

You can communicate this ‘Red Thread’ to your customers’ in numerous ways, and just as many places. It maps out what you do and how you help them in a simple process. It’s essentially a plot. You can read some case studies on Tamsen’s website

But once you have the strategy in place, the brand story helps you communicate. So let’s look at different ways of writing stories about fate, and see how they’re used in brand storytelling.

Fate as a Narrative Technique

Destiny is a well-known trope in storytelling. The concept of following it or pushing against it is often used to get characters to change their situation. For example, in Star Wars, Darth Vader says: “Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.” This development changes the trajectory of Luke’s character. 

As an author, you are always in control of the fate of your characters. By using the fate or destiny trope, you’re revealing yourself as the overall manipulator of your character’s journey. It can be jarring for the audience or reader to suddenly realise that their beloved hero doesn’t have any agency. However, there are less bombastic ways you can use the line of fate in your writing. Here are a few literary devices that are more subtle:

Chekhov’s Gun: Don’t have anything in the story that doesn’t relate to the drama within. So if you have a gun in the first act, it should go off by the third. This is really about the inevitable. We want our audience to see what relates to the fate of the protagonist and not get bogged down with details that aren’t relevant.

Foreshadowing: Yes, plot twists are great, but they do need to be believable. Before your big reveal, you need to leave crumbs of rationale for the changes that are about to happen. For example, throughout Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen was conflicted between her desire for power and her love for people. The clues left by the writers of the final series of Game of Thrones coerced the audience into believing her desperate cruelty was a natural development of her character. Leaving a crumb trail of evidence shares some of the authorial hindsight you possess.

Poetic Justice: The ironic twist of fate that gives the audience a jolt. It plays on the opposing senses of justness and evil and makes the audience believe that karma or kismet has played the role of judge and jury for our protagonist—fate in its most moral form. 

Self Fulfilling Prophecy: Attention goes where energy flows, right? This is the ‘lean in’ story for manifesters everywhere. The role of an omnipresent actor within the story is reduced. Instead, what the character focuses on as an individual creates the line of fate. It relies on spirituality to the same extent. The roles are simply reversed. The character believes that focus decides fate, and so it comes true.

 

These techniques don’t exist to make you look big or clever. Instead, they allow the reader to come to fateful conclusions on their own. They empower the reader.

Using Storytelling Techniques to Communicate Your Red Thread Strategy

Here are some takeaways from the line of fate narrative trope.

  1. You need a tangible route map to show customers where to go and what to do. It must be grounded in strategy. 
  2. You, as the omnipotent author, need to be a benevolent force to put people at ease. This has to come across to your network. 
  3. To keep faith, you need to let fate unravel using the literary techniques stated. All your communications need to be grounded in a genuine story, well told. 

The concept of fate is used in market communications in both obvious and subtle ways. Below is the video of Nas’ Dear Destiny campaign for Hennessy.

If you want to work out a strategy that maps out a red thread plot, then helps you communicate it, then book a brand story workshop with Attractivity. We’ll help you to pan out your strategy, then test how that applies to your network and communications. If you have any questions, please get in touch