Readers should always be skeptical of narrative structures. Narrative denies its own rhetoricity, which is academic jargon for: stories persuade without seeming to persuade. Bykofsky's advice boils down to this: When you encounter a neatly tied plot and well-formed characters [in nonfiction], be skeptical.Be very skeptical!
Day-to-day, Cline concerns himself with the truth-bending effects of narrative structure in journalism. We ourselves have identified our own distorting master narrative in Civil War nonfiction ("Lincoln finds a general"); Cline seeks out the nefarious master narrative informing each news cycle:
Narrative bias: The news media cover the news in terms of "stories" that must have a beginning, middle, and end--in other words, a plot with antagonists and protagonists. Much of what happens in our world, however, is ambiguous. The news media apply a narrative structure to ambiguous events suggesting that these events are easily understood and have clear cause-and-effect relationships. Good storytelling requires drama, and so this bias often leads journalists to add, or seek out, drama for the sake of drama. Controversy creates drama. Journalists often seek out the opinions of competing experts or officials in order to present conflict between two sides of an issue (sometimes referred to as the authority-disorder bias). Lastly, narrative bias leads many journalists to create, and then hang on to, master narratives--set story lines with set characters who act in set ways. [Emphasis added.] Once a master narrative has been set, it is very difficult to get journalists to see that their narrative is simply one way, and not necessarily the correct or best way, of viewing people and events.This comes very near to defining the core problem with Civil War history.