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Story telling: a thought aggregation

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At the center of every culture is a group of people seated around a fire telling of the heroes whose struggles transformed and remade their world. That’s true whether the fire is the burning embers of a cooking fire in the Amazon basin or the flickering pixels of a cathode ray tube in upper Manhattan. It’s true whether the hero is White Buffalo Calf Woman, whose gift of the sacred pipe gave birth to the Sioux nation, or Neal Armstrong, whose view of the world from the moon unleashed in an era of globalization. These stories do more than define a culture; they shape and move it, making a living thing.

As human beings, we communicate primarily through the telling of stories. We are bombarded by hundreds of stories each day –stories about which toothpaste is best, about terrorists lurking in the shadows, about new scientific miracles and eternal spiritual truths.

[Form Robert Dickman, Founder: First Voice] [Read the complete article here]

According to Robert the formal definition of a story-
A story is a fact wrapped in an emotion that can compel us to take action and so transform the world around us.

Passion: Every powerful narrative has passion, the emotion that is wrapped around our story’s central fact. Passion is the fire that attracts the audience’s attention and draws it into the story. It makes a story personal. It makes us care.

Whenever we see a movie or read a novel, two souls work inside us. One reflects as critic soul and another the involved soul, which tries to be part of the “story”. Passion encourages the involved soul.

Hero: All the passion in the world won’t do any good unless you have someplace to put it. That is where the hero comes in. It is the way the story is grounded in our reality. By hero, I don’t mean Superman or a grandmother who rushes into a burning building to save a baby, though these are examples of heroes, but the character in the story who gives the audience a point of view. This point of view has to be substantial enough that the story has “a leg to stand on’” but of a scale that allows us to identify with it. The hero is both our surrogate and our guide through the narrative. The hero’s vision of the world creates the landscape the audience enters.

Point to remember always – If the hero is too perfect, the audience rapidly loses interest.

[ Tell the story from the point of view of a single protagonist who is prototypical of the potential audience. – Steve Denning ]

Antagonist: For a story, problems are like air. They breathe life into the narrative. If no obstacles appear, the audience views the story as flat. A great problem, often personified as an identifiable villain, crytallizes the facts of the story and helps them come alive. It is very hard to find that focus without a good villain. Two-time Academy Award winner William Goldman says that every screenplay has to answer just three questions: “Who is your hero? What does he want? Who the hell is keeping him from getting it?”

Point to remember always: The purpose of the antagonist is not to create conflict, but to help clarify it.

Transformation: Transformation is the natural result of a well-told story. Our heroes take action to overcome their problems, and they and the world around them are changed. The audience feels satisfied when they see the hero emerge from the fires of hell a changed and better human being. Learning from the negative and moving on toward the good gives us all hope.

[ From a interview with John Seely Brown ] [ Read the Complete Interview here ]

Why storytelling? Well, the simplest answer to your question is that stories talk to the gut, while information talks to the mind. You can’t talk a person through a change in religion or a change in a basic mental model. There has to be an emotional component in what you are doing. That is to say, you use a connotative component (what the thing means) rather than a denotative component (what it represents). First, you grab them in the gut and then you start to construct (or re-construct) a mental model. If you try to do this in an intellectual or abstract way, you find that it’s very hard, if not impossible, to talk somebody into changing their mental models. But if you can get to them emotionally, either through rhetoric or dramatic means (not overly dramatic!), then you can create some scaffolding that effectively allows them to construct a new model for themselves. You provide the scaffolding and they construct something new. It doesn’t seem to work if you just try to tell them what to think. They have to internalize it. They have to own it. So the question is: what are the techniques for creating scaffolding that facilitate the rich internalization and re-conceptualization and re-contextualization of their own thinking relative to the experience that you’re providing them? Put more simply: how do you get them to live the idea?

Sharing knowledge was like uprooting a tree and transplanting it somewhere else. You called the tree, the “smallest portable context.” A story would be an example of the smallest portable context. You said that the roots of the tree symbolize tacit knowledge, shared practices (social and work practices) and understandings that may not be explicit. In order for the tree to continue to live after it is transplanted, there must be a certain amount of shared practices and tacit understanding.

[ From a interview with Steve Denning ] [ Read the Complete Interview here ]

People think in stories, talk in stories, communicate in stories, even dream in stories. If you want to understand what’s going on in an organization, you need to listen to the stories. Moreover, if you want to get anything done in an organization, you need to know how to use to story to move people.

Management theorists who claim to have a scientific approach to management are kidding themselves and their audiences. Management involves dealing with human intentions and purposes, which are not amenable to scientific observation and measurement. You can easily see this from the numbers of management advisers around.
In chemistry, or physics, or the other real sciences, you don’t have large armies of advisers floating around, advising on what’s the right answer to physics or chemistry or whatever. Scientists themselves can see what’s right or wrong. Something is observable or it isn’t—end of discussion.

In management, there is no such scientific clarity, and hence clouds of advisers swarm around like locusts, most claiming to have a scientific approach, which of course is just a story aimed at giving the speaker cognitive authority over everyone else and to call the shots. The activity is interesting, even exciting and important, but it’s not scientific.

(Footnote : replace Management by Learning Design, it should tell you the same story!)

People can’t absorb data because they don’t think in data. They think in stories. If you give people a story, then they can absorb the meaning of large amounts of data very rapidly.

Images can strongly reinforce the story. Amusing images, if well chosen, can be particularly effective in advancing the story.

[ From a post by David Pollard ] [ Read the Complete Post here ]

So a story can be effective, and hence a ‘good story’, to the teller, and/or, subject to the above-noted tendency for audience groupthink, to each member of the audience, and for very different reasons. It depends entirely on the expectations of each participant, and how each participant uniquely internalizes what they hear and/or say. Is there, then, any common denominator to good stories that the story-teller can draw upon?

Good stories, like good gifts, seem to have one or more of five qualities:

1. Evocative — they provoke a profound intellectual, emotional, or sensual response.
2. Transporting — they ‘carry the recipient’ to another place, another time, by imagery or memory or resonance
3. Persuasive — they cause a fundamental shift in thinking or perception
4. Memorable — they leave something behind that the recipient will hold for a long time
5. Useful — they make something the recipient needs to do easier, faster, or more pleasurableNow, how to take these great ideas into online learning experience design?
Going back to John Seely Brown
I’m taking storytelling so seriously that I’m now spending part of my time at the new institute for media literacy at USC. I’m particularly interested in digital storytelling, in new ways to use multiple media to tell stories and in the ability of kids, who are now growing up in a digital world, to figure out new ways to tell stories. They have the ability to build interpretive movies very simply and to lay sound tracks around the content. They condition or “sculpture” the context around the content. The serious interplay between context and content is key to what film – and rich media in general – are about. I want to understand what film people know about storytelling. I want to know what makes them such good storytellers. What are the techniques (and grammars) of film that help them create an emotional scaffolding around a story so that it connects first to the gut and then to the head?

Some great example of online story telling

America on the move
Anne Frank the writer – An unfinished Story
Theban Mapping Project
Becoming Human

I blogged before on “Inspirations from online interactive storytellers – Part – A”. For a proper flow you can treat this post as a prequel to that.

Appendix:
One problem faced by all of online story creator for learning. The use of media (Narration, Interactivity etc.) is expensive, complicated and time-consuming affair. Second Story came up with a unique solution for this in their America on the move project.

[ From Beyond On-line Collections: Putting Objects to Work ]

On-line Collections-based Storytelling

The administrative tools commonly used to manage content in an on-line collection stand in stark contrast to the tools required to publish interpretive presentations. While it is usually easy to add objects to and edit metadata in a collection database, most interpretive presentations are fixed programs that are difficult to modify. While many exhibition sites provide unmediated access to the objects in an exhibition, that access is most often accessible in a segregated part of the site, often connected but wholly unlike the mediated presentations that interpret the objects. What if the same kind of browser-based administrative tools that are used to easily update collections could be modified to enable museum staff to curate, annotate, paginate and publish custom collections? The flexible, fluid backend of an on-line database can lay the foundation for interpretive presentations that can be modified and expanded over time. Imagine curated collections, new stories, tours, on-line exhibitions, and media-rich presentations easily being added without involving designers, programmers or developers!

Turning Content Management Tools into Storytelling Tools
Museum staff, curators and invited experts use browser-based content management tools on an administrative site to edit any record or page of the site. Creating new stories is just as easy as adding an object to the database, with additional flexibility for a high level of customization. Once a new story is named, described and credited, the author decides which themes are relevant, related stories and links are identified, a custom color scheme is selected, and representative thumbnails are chosen. Then the fun of assembling the content begins. Site administrators can browse the collection and save records to specific lightboxes, and they can have as many unique lightboxes as there are stories they wish to compose. With a pool of objects and any amount of text (some stories are purely playlists while others are more like papers) ready to copy and paste from a text file, the creator can start authoring a page. Pages are comprised of varying amounts of horizontal components: custom containers for headers, text, images, audio and digital video.

When a component is added, the author must select from one of 20 different component styles: one big block of text, a block of text and two images with captions, an image, then text, then another image, etc. A new blank component is embedded in the editing page where text can be pasted in and images cropped, placed and captioned, right out of the author’s lightbox. As more components are added to a page, the cumulative page size is totaled so pagination considerations can be made in light of downloadability. At any time the components can be reordered, and edited, and the page previewed. Once all the pages are satisfactory, the story can be published; it is automatically interconnected in the theme finder, related records pages and any related stories pages, all without any designers, programmers or HTML authoring!

Written by anol

May 7th, 2004 at 3:23 am

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