By Limor Shiponi
Continuing the search for a storytelling grid it is getting obvious that eventually it will not be a grid i.e. 2D net. It can’t be a 3D form either since elements of time and change are involved (any suggestions for a form?). In the meanwhile I’m looking at the inner threefold of storytelling – the elements that help co-create the event from inside, the three narratives present through means of expression and composition: verbal, vocal and somatic-kinesthetic. They exist in all three partners of the core storytelling model.
On the outside they are evident through the work of the storyteller – story-text, voice and gesture. At the same time the listener carries knowledge in the same three narratives, otherwise he can’t understand what the storyteller is doing. What about the utterance? I chose this word for several reasons, one of them connected to this issue: utterance is a spoken adjustable text and therefore is created considering adjustable voice and somatic-kinesthetic experience.
On even a deeper level these three narratives represent the need to share a thought (story-text/ verbal) adapted to a relationship (gesture/somatic-kinesthetic) materialized in time (voice/patterned movement). It’s not a clear cut though and this is important – a gesture can affect voice and so can a story-text. Voice can help interpret a story-text in new ways, some of them influenced by a gesture made by listeners. This creates an ongoing conversation between needs of tension and relief, question and answer, closeness and remoteness and so forth, like a communal breathing of thoughts, relationships and somatic-kinesthetic needs of the bodies present in the telling.
Think about the various arts, disciplines, skills, occupations connected to the inner threefold of storytelling and the vastness of the grid (in lack of a better word right now) becomes apparent. More to come…
42 thoughts on “In search of a storytelling grid | Part III”
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Hi Limor! I am following your explorations with interest. From my own perspective, that is, from within my own frameworks of experience: Your three “folds” of patterned movement, thought and relationships seem to parallel my story dimensions of form, function and phenomenon. Common ground?
Also, regarding your diagram two posts back: I’ve long thought of stories as having a shape like a pencil: setting as the flexible eraser part, plot “lines” running along the stem (along which characters and conflicts play), and the point of the story at the point of the pencil. So your cylindrical shape resonates with me!
Hi Cynthia – I can’t say what kind of common ground we can find in terms right now in the exploration. I’m happy to hear it is tapping into other perspectives – whatever they are called. Eventually, even if we find common ground each of us will keep the models they fell convenient with, but we’ll know how they do or not do connect.
About the cylindrical shape – well, from my perspective, I can’t tell what ‘the point’ is. If it’s where the listener ‘gets it’ it’s sometimes in a different place than the peak of the story and that peak is many times not at the end of the story-text. For me the cylindrical shape tries to suggest the visual schematic presentation of two issues – that the event happens in time and that physically it is contained in one place. I would try and work a little more around the pencil metaphor, since it does sound as a good, clear visual.
Agree about knowing why models connect. Growing our own names for things may be as inevitable as each having our own styles.
I don’t think of the pencil point as the point where the listener “gets” the story. I agree that this could happen anywhere and might even be a gradual awakening rather than a single point. (I call that point the “bloom” of the story, myself.)
Rather I think of the pencil point as a compact, crystallized gem of understanding, connection, and vision that forms after the storytelling event (the cylinder) has run its course, or what remains after the crucible of exchange has cooled. The place of narrowing, between the cylinder proper and the crystallized point, represents the process in which reflection, negotiation and comparison make sense of the story and build links between it and other stories. This may happen in an instant or may take decades, and it may happen once or many times; but it sharpens the story into what is carried forth. I like to think of the thing that sharpens the story, like a pencil sharpener or a knife, as our minds, individually; and our mindful interactions, collectively. It is our sensemaking capacity. Some stories never come to a gem-like point and are cast aside unsharpened and unused (perhaps because one of your elements was not fully present). But stories with points become capable of writing parts of our larger life stories.
BUT all of this is after-the-fact rationalization on my part. I began visualizing storytelling events as pencils more than a decade ago for reasons I still don’t perfectly understand. This has always been the best explanation I could come up with for why I see them that way. The image came first, the explanation later. So as I said it was exciting to see someone else draw a similar diagram and to explore if our explanations might be similar.
Hi Cynthia, thanks for clarifying. Reading your explanation and the description of the experiences, I think you are referring to something I call ‘capsule’. I’ll get there later on but just for now – it is a codification of the entire event that can easily move on in the world to be de-codified into other storytelling experiences.
Notice that we “feel” the same, we just give those feelings different names. I think those names are influenced by our backgrounds or the various playgrounds we work in.
Wondering why the time/change thing negates it being a 3D form leads me to suggest that the root problem is with the notion of a grid. Intentionally or not, the very word ‘grid’ implies a discrete co-ordinate system, and whilst it’s perfectly possible mathematically to have as many dimensions as you like in any given co-ordinate system, it becomes increasingly difficult to visualise.
Beginning to think something akin to the ‘fitness landscapes’ of evolutionary biology may have something to offer here – the idea is that you define a topological landscape of varying peaks and troughs in terms of the total possible variations of whatever parameter set you choose (evolutionary fitness in the original conception). Individual instances are represented by journeys across the landscape – they start from a particular point, and have only a finite (although very large) number of possible routes across the landscape. It’s not about analysing any one particular instance, more about trying to gain some general insights by visualising the landscape of all possible instances.
Thinking topologically also has the advantage of being able to account for duration (the journey across the landscape) and change (the gradient of the landscape). Plus it can be any shape you can possibly imagine (and quite a few you can’t, unless you’re very very very good at maths!)
We’re all familiar with the notion of story being a shared journey across myriad geographies (actual, imagined, historical, social, emotional, psychological etc etc) why not kick it up a level and have a meta-landscape ?
Yes, it can’t be a grid. I realize that. It is a form though; maybe one of those 11 dimensional mathematical forms in search of explaining the work of God… it is also obvious the form can never be settled i.e. frozen on page; it is in constant motion, taking a rest from time to time by slowing down.
It’s interesting you’re mentioning a landscape. That’s exactly what I’m trying to draw for the next post! And I do agree the possible number of routs is very large but finite. That’s where the possible narratives for a single storytelling event end. We can’t see or feel the context or echo of that event beyond that.
Allan, you see in your mind exactly what I see and it’s not the first time I’m sure about storytellers seeing the exact same thing in their mind’s eye whether they can articulate it clearly or not. Listening to my instincts I have questions coming up:
The reason I started this search is connected to something more mundane – mapping what makes up storytelling so various people can realize what they are doing in its framework. That can help settle the endless grappling around the word ‘storytelling’. It can also help the artistic discussions in a way. It can also enhance the understanding of actual required skills. Besides, it’s interesting.
On the other hand – should we continue going that deep in the open? For instance, I’m not sure that people who wrote books about storytelling trying to explain how to apply it in the business place or in organizations are happy today with the fact they wrote those books for everyone to read. I’m not talking about competition but about the over simplification and marketing promises attached to that ‘work’. If it is so difficult to place this knowledge in open formats, maybe it should stay inside?
On the face of it seems weird that we should both apparently be thinking along such similar tracks, but perhaps we’re approaching some funadamental ideas about language and narrative?
What I mean is, it seems reasonable to propose that there are some fundamentals underlying the mechanics (poor word, sorry, can’t think of a better one right now) of oral storytelling – after all any language is a system, and narratives are also systematic, why shouldn’t there be some underlying systems governing how they work together? Within this possible space of language/story/teller there may very well be some fundamentals (be surprising if there aren’t, come to think of it) which every practicing storyteller will have encountered in the course of their work…obviously there are practical things, but why not ontological/systematic things as well?
Actually, now I’m starting to think about emergence…
Before I get carried away with that, another question – we both agree the number of possible tracks across the storylandscape is very large but finite – do you envisage that the landscape itself is bounded in some way, or is it that specific journeys across it can only get so far (for whatever reason) ?
One hopes that some contribution might be made to the art, however small – matter of reciprocity for me, I’ve got so much from storytelling the least I can do is to try and give something back. I honour your ambition to try and make some clarifying contribution to the ‘what is storytelling’ debate, but I think the word itself is in such wide currency that this will only ever possible within certain pretty closely defined contexts…
No reason not to try, though, and you’re right, it is deeply interesting (knew my Philosophy degree would come in useful sometime 🙂
Hadn’t thought about the public/private issue. In my woolly liberal way I’d like to think it should all be out there, but then I think about how furious I’d be to see any of this lovely conversation packaged, mis-labelled and sold as something it isn’t to people who either don’t need it or can’t understand it.
Perhaps the real danger comes when/if something practical emerges out of all this speculation?
I don’t think it is weird at all. In fact, what set me on this search years ago was something that caught my attention while observing many storytellers speak ABOUT their inner experience during the telling. I believe storytelling is a mechanism but not only; don’t state that opinion often since people don’t like seeing it that way – it’s not ‘magical’. I’ve even written a paper concerning this issue and although it’s on this blog somewhere it never stirred up the attention it could have if people were ready to capture it. I actually spelled out ‘the code’ of storytelling. I’m not pushing it for the exact same reason you mentioned concerning the public/private issue.
About story landscape – as your second suggestion beautifully states – it can only get so far for whatever reason. The ‘finite’ idea too is not a popular thought since people like to think we have endless possibilities/echoes and adore the butterfly effect. I think that storytelling teaches storytellers the practice of letting go.
Storytelling is a wide currency yet what most people don’t notice is that storytelling is the map, not only the occupation. That’s why they add something to the word ‘storytelling’ as if attempting to describe a derivation; it’s all included in storytelling just puts to practice a part of it thinking they’ll get the full effect.
That paper I mentioned carries a practical suggestion… that cannot scale to the degree gaming companies and other businesses of that sort would like it to scale 🙂
Sculptor Henry Moore was invited to take part in a radio programme about creativity which would have included the opportunity for him to talk in depth to a psychiatrist about the nature of (his) creativity. He politely declined, on the basis that he was worried that if he knew how he did what he did he might not be able to do it anymore.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that little snippet is apocrophal, but it accurately captures a common feeling. For me, the crucial thing is to be clear that any of these analytical games are just that – games. If they help, in the sense of producing something of practical value or deepening one’s understanding, then good. If they’re entertaining, so much the better. The problems come if you confuse the model with the reality it was devised to reflect in some way.
I’m aware, however, that this isn’t necessarily how a lot of people think, and that the more compelling an idea/model may be , the more likely it is to become conflated with reality in people’s minds. (Another reason for being selective about audiences for some discussions, perhaps?)
You’re right about the finite/infinate thing, as well – on the face of it an issue about precision of language use and clarity of thought, but people often hear what they want to, not what’s actually said…the association of ‘finite’ with limited/bound/bad and ‘infinite’ with unbound/unlimited/good seems very strong these days.
(Passing digression – did you ever see my stuff about layers of language on storytell a few years ago…another possible strand to add to the discussion, as it if weren’t tangled enough 🙂 )
Christopher Booker has some cogent things to say about basic limitations on narrative shapes…can’t recall exactly what the book’s called (away from my bookshelf – heeeelp!) but it’s something like ‘The Nine Basic Plots’
Will go searching for your paper another day, sounds fascinating.
Why is it that striving towards understanding of mechanisms is so often held to diminish ‘magic’ – many scientists have gone or record as saying the more they understand about how things work, the more amazed and awe-struck they are.
I think the last part of your comment is my answer to it’s first part 🙂 I can’t imagine a magician not enjoying magic and it seems to me the greater magician he is the more he is drawn into it. The fact I understand the mechanism (as far as I do) has never destroyed my ability to enjoy storytelling. I’m just totally enchanted every time.
I keep dropping in and out of following as your ideas develop and it’s great to see you grappling with such massive ideas. Relating storytelling to the multi-dimensional concepts in mathematics, ideas that only sometimes float across my consciousness – mostly thanks to Prof Brian Cox and the BBC, is positively inspiring.
Personally I am closer to Allan’s thoughts on the landscape of storytelling. Everytime I work with story it has its own landscape and although each story has its own there is a peculiar alternative world with its own rules which does exist to me. When I represent the story at least adequately it is a place that those listening visit with me. Many years ago I heard Hugh Lupton talk about the storyteller as a bridge, a safe way between two worlds. The storyteller takes you across but, most importantly, you have to be able to trust him/her to bring you back to your own dimension when the story is done. Does that fit with the idea of a meta-landscape?
Hi Ghislaine and welcome!
Can’t help grappling with such ideas… What you wrote is interesting; you’re witnessing for the existence of a physical place (landscape) in an alternative world and you’re also saying you can be part of it while working with story, whether that particular story is connected with the alternative place or not. Did I get you right?
I totally agree with Hugh’s description of bridging a safe way. That’s one of the sources for me naming the storyteller ‘messenger’. We are the messengers of the witnesses (listeners, storyteller included) to that other place, going back and forth telling them what we see is happening over there. Yes, the trust he describes is essential, otherwise difficult things can happen.
I don’t know if it fits with the idea of meta-landscape since it was just suggested by Allen 🙂 I think we still need to figure if such meta-landscape exists, why we need it and if it can be universal. It might be that it isn’t but it might be that what is universal is the sense that such a landscape exists.
I think the next step on this particular issue would be to decide how we are going to figure it out. Now where is Allan? Need to read more about what’s on his mind concerning this issue.
Hi Ghislaine 🙂 Allan’s been trying to have a real life (well, mainly making music and helping a friend celebrate her 30th birthday) sorry…
Limor you have a real knack for nailing fine distinctions – I love the idea that the sense that such a landscape exists is what is universal 🙂 Could be you’re right, in the sense that you’ve captured something of the meta-nature of the idea…
I was simply thinking about systems when I suggested meta-landscapes, not anything to do with content or meaning – it’s a convenient way to visualise the space of possibilities defined by a complex, multi-valent shifting set of parameters. What those parameters might actually represent is another question entirely, but I think a couple of interesting features of ‘landscape thinking’ fit in with all this very well.
The first point has to do with limits – if you imagine a topology of stories (leave aside how this might be defined for a moment), one could say that out on the level plains things flow together – there are many paths one could take, but as soon as one starts to make some definite choices (again, never mind mechanism or reasons) the ‘ground’ rises (or dips)…the further along that particular path one ventures, the more distinct the topography becomes – in other words, the more choices are made, the more the journey becomes ‘this’ story, as opposed to any other possible story. Taken to it’s conclusion, one may find one’s self on a story peak, or in a story ravine…there are very few choices as to where to go from there, if any….and the more distinct the landscape feature, the narrower the path to get there. In that sense each story/journey can be thought of as a self-limiting set of decisions – and so the particularity of each specific journey/story emerges out of a huge set of contingent possibilities…and each journey can only ever be itself.
It was this combination of emergence and self-limiting that first made me think of landscapes – evolutionary biologists came up with fitness landscapes as a way of picturing the speciation process (I’ll dig out the references if you want them) and explaining not only how species arise, but how they become distinct from each other.
This seems to me to be a pretty good analogy for the way stories arise in the telling.
The other thing about landscape-thinking that appeals to me is that it seems to provide a useful way of imagining certain common aspects or elements of stories in terms of topological features – get too close to the ‘quest’ ravine, and it will pull you down. Climb to the top of the holy mountain and you’ll be able to see a very long way…on a clear day…
That’s something of what I was/am thinking off…
Thanks for the compliment – it does sooth part of the pains caused by attempting to do all this in Engliah… 🙂
I think what is universal is the desire/need for patterned movement. The connection to landscape is so deep it might sound ‘mystical fluff’ if we don’t drill down step by step. I could always call it a ‘quantum leap’ if I wanted to be fashionable… 🙂
It can be that storytelling has a meta-landscape yet in parallel I’m asking myself why we were suggesting a finite landscape for a single exchange. Is that landscape different than the meta-one? (I hope no one is popping in right at this comment, it’s becoming somewhat peculiar…)
I love your description about the narrowing paths and choices and about each journey only ever being itself; speaking about having a real knack for nailing fine distinctions, they don’t necessarily have to conclude in one or two words; descriptions feel better in some places. Interesting connection you are making there with the speciation process. I’m thinking in parallel about fractals and the mandelbrot set. Terrence Gargiulo suggested on a comment he made on facebook that the fourth illustration (look at the new post) is starting to look a bit like a Merkaba. The really amazing part in this is the connection to the spoken word and the power of creation. I’ll stop here for now, enjoying every minute of this.
I’d like to raise two points. First, I use 3D landscapes (similar to fitness landscapes) in narrative sensemaking, both in group exercises and in explorations of patterns (of interpretations of stories, by their tellers and others). In this case the landscape is a model not of the “land of story” in general but of particular dimensions of an issue or concern the client needs to explore. For example we might explore dimensions in health care at a particular hospital. We place on the landscape either stories (brief ones, anecdotes) or elements drawn from stories. Then we negotiate meaning as patterns emerge, and we create larger stories as we explore explanations and possibilities. So there is no reason such a landscape couldn’t also work to negotiate meaning with respect to the issue of story work itself. From my point of view that WOULD be a meta-landscape!
The second point is, how can we address the issue of including story workers who do not tell stories? I do not tell stories; I listen to stories and help them get to where they need to go. As far as I can tell, there are not many story workers who are not storytellers, but I believe we have a useful role. So when I read about “mapping what makes up storytelling” I want to speak up. I would like to talk about mapping ALL of organizational story work. What is the best way to do that?
Though I guess the more important question is DO you want to do that? If you don’t, that’s fine of course. My only object has been mutual benefit. I think if we all understood where we fit into the world of story work we could build better connections that could help all of us do our work better. That was the reason I asked Madelyn for the spot on the WWSW call (Worldwide Story WORK, not Story TELLING). Sometimes good fences make good neighbors … and sometimes they don’t. What do you think?
Hi Cynthia, happy you are here. I think part IV which I’ve just posted is touching the issue of landscapes external to the storytelling event – any landscape relevant to a story-connected act of sharing and sense making. Reading your first paragraph while thinking about the dynamic form presented in the new post it seems this form can work in any context, narrative or part of a narrative, story work included.
To the second: I think there are more story practitioners who are not storytellers than it seems but that’s not why this search is taking place. For the sake of this discussion it is a ‘non issue’. I think the difference of perspectives is hidden in the word ‘ALL’ – if I’m not mistaken you see storytelling (the occupation) as part of the map; I see storytelling as the map itself and as an occupational domain (and an art form obviously). After searching through what makes up storytelling I think it will be rather evident that most story practitioners work within this domain, but they don’t necessarily practice all its parts. Does that sound like a possible path?
There is another point here – until now I’ve been zooming out. Starting with the next post I’ll be zooming in which is where most story practitioners work. I want to DO that for the exact reason you’ve mentioned and for another reason connected to confusions bothering storytellers. Borrowing from Shakespeare, not everything is that magical in the state of Denmark…
You put it well when you said “that’s not why this search is taking place.” The important word there is THIS. This is YOUR search, so it makes sense that you should map YOUR world, which is the world of storytelling. I don’t see what I do as within the occupational domain of storytelling, but I do see it as within the occupational domain of story – which is where MY search is taking place. So we are mapping different spaces. Maybe what we will end up with is multiple maps with bridges (staircases? lifts?) between.
It’s also funny that you say you’ve been zooming in, because from my perspective you have been zoomed way in the whole time. I usually look at story from the hawk’s eye level where thousands of stories form dozens of patterns and any one story (or storytelling event) is one tree in a vast wood. This is partly based on my background in ecology which leads me to be most comfortable looking at that scale. My “life cycle” of stories reflects this bias in comparison to your models. Both scales are useful and complementary. Besides, sometimes after you zoom in enough you find yourself with a zoomed-out view, and vice versa.
The way I see this search is me suggesting possibilities for others to look at and comment upon. I don’t have full conclusions about everything yet and even if those occur they will not necessarily be accepted. Yet I think it is important and if something good can emerge from this – so be it. I’m not doing it only from a storyteller’s point of view – I’m a story practitioner too. Being both, I’ve decided to search through storytelling because I can see it has a broader view. Talking only about part of the view as the map would be rather strange for me. In fact, that’s what’s frustrating in such discussions from the storytellers’ side; we listen and we know that there is a lot of ground not covered and things taken out of context yet wondering the world calling them storytelling or wondering how they connect. There is danger in that and its effects are not really harmful for storytelling which will forever prevail; the danger is for the free spirit of humanity. Big words, hey? I could say more if needed but this blog is full of my opinions about that issue.
I don’t think we are conducting different searches but rather taking different paths (plots) in the same narrative. I would like to believe we’ll meet more than once to find communality and differences of practice. Multiple maps? Most probably, but that’s more connected to the nature of owning an idea and feeling comfortable to work with it. This habit is in a way strange to storytelling but understandable for various reasons.
About zooming – in and out, on the way you see the details in the view change but as you fly you well know you’re looking at the big picture all the time, it’s all there through times, places, identities, patterns always showing its beauty through the tiniest details as through themes people are busy with since somewhere after the dawn of humanity. I have a hunch though about what will happen after I start relating to what I called ‘zoom in’. I’ll keep it to myself for now so I don’t block anything.
Bravo Limor for tackling such a huge issue and I’ve been enjoying reading all the responses.
I do like the metaphor of a landscape. It too, like story is malleable, context driven, can be rich in meaning, and imagination – both synchronically and diachronically. Topography, path, journey, etc. are all pieces that have been mentioned here. There’s the macro landscape, the micro-landscape (i.e. the points about zooming), and other qualities I find useful. And it is good to remember that a map is not the territory.
Journeys across the landscape, or story events, in my mind are not finite but infinite. We think they are finite because we make a decision about when they start and stop. But that’s us imposing our frameworks on them so we can talk about them, study them, analyze them, etc. We create navigation tools to document the landscape and create maps as we grapple with understanding the territory. I’m echoing Alan’s earlier post here.
Why do I say stories are not finite? Because I can tell a story in an infinite number of ways, depending on the context, people, how I feel, etc. I can take the same journey across the map and it can be different each time. So I want to be very careful when talking about this notion of finite landscapes or finite story landscapes.
Are there limitations and structures I deal with in this real that are constraints? Absolutely. That’s half the fun. We know art is a dynamic process of playing with constraints. This is where innovation comes from. Another way to think of this is as deep play. So maybe we struggling here with language again in this discussion of finite/infinite.
For me, storytelling is also about reciprocity, resonance and vibration. By resonance I mean how the story resonates with others (or not) – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in the sensory realms. By vibration I mean the effect the story has on both the teller and the listener long after the story event is over. I’m not sure how these fit into your thinking Limor. Maybe there’s a ‘through time’ diachronic quality that needs to be added here.
On the topic of story practitioners and being trained in storytelling. Well, I can only say for me how much more enhanced my academic education has been with this training, and how much the quality of my work with clients has increased. There are dimensions about oral storytelling that I could never have appreciated, nor understood, without it. These insights about the dynamics of stories and telling for both audience and teller greatly influence my work. Which is why I advocate for professional oral storytelling training among story practitioners – otherwise as a profession we won’t be giving our best to our clients.
BTW – I’m just as adamant about story practitioners getting a solid theoretical foundation under their belts, too.
Do I tell stories in my work? 90% of the time — no. Like you Cynthia, I spend the majority of my time listening for, documenting, analyzing, and reporting on stories with clients. I think I do understand what you are trying to say when declaring you don’t tell stories in your work. But because you are a human being, I think of course that you do. We are probably back to semantics here. Ahhh, the frustrations of not having this discussion face-to-face!!
OK – done for now. Looking forward to the next posts.
I finally got to speak to a mathematician; a wise woman with a clear-cut conversation style. One of her main fields of expertise is teaching the issues of infinity and she loves talking about it.
I presented her with the illustration on part IV and asked her to tell me what she thinks concerning infinity. It’s important to emphasize that illustration is about a SINGLE telling event. She said that it can be infinite but wanted to know why I’m presenting the possibility it isn’t. My reply – I know it is infinite but at a certain point the infinite possibilities become insignificant, too small a units to attract my attention as relevant and therefore they are dropped out of my consciousness, I don’t need them. Having possibilities is nice but not all possibilities are the same and if they aren’t useful they become irrelevant noise. Storytelling is also about letting go and keeping only the relevant information on your screen.
In return she told me one of Zeno’s paradoxes, Achilles and the tortoise (quote from Wikipedia): “In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.” Aristotle, Physics.
Reciprocity, resonance and vibration are part of illustration IV and later on they will appear again. See how each member of the exchange also crosses the assembly’s container walls into their own narratives. From an infinite point of view they can even resonate each other outside of the event – hence a strong feeling of shared destiny or the will to do something together that appear many times during and after a storytelling event. Peace workers as tyrants dwell in that domain, spiritualists, religion practitioners and all kinds of recruiters to mention a few (I do not mean that the above have the same intention).
Hadn’t thought about the ‘noise’ of infinite (or otherwise) possibilities, but I see what you mean. In a sense, it’s the same as the solution to the hare/tortoise paradox, what looks at first sight like an infinitely regressing series. The key to the paradox lies in the notion of measuring time and distance in discrete chunks – its easy to forget that this is a conventional convenience, and a mathematically accurate description of the situation would be a straight forward integral, easily solvable and chiming with what common sense says must be the result – the hare accelerates, and wins.
We find it hard to thing about things that change, and the rate at which they change simultaneously…
The possibilities recede into the background, become ‘noise’ to use your term (I’ll come back to this in a moment, as it’s just suggested something else to me) as the story/journey progresses – yes?
I was thinking in terms of a probabilities and decision trees, and in that sense any given story/journey becomes, by definition, a self-limiting system because the range of possibilities converges as you go through the branches of the tree (fractal sturcture, there :)) and the journey ends in a particular, specific place. There’s a directionality to this because we’re talking about events which take place in time, and even if we bend time to our will in the course of the narration, the actual act of narration also takes place in time, and must obey time’s arrow. The decisions taken at each branch of the path, once taken, cannot be undone. You end up where you end up, and there will be other possible outcomes, some very different, but crucially, you can’t get there from here because you can’t reverse the arrow of time and unmake the decisions that you’ve taken.
You could go back to the same starting point to make another journey, and make a different set of decisions.
You could also go back to the same starting point and try and retrace the same path…tell the same story.
Empirical experience (and common sense) say this is impossible, as the precise conditions that informed the previous journey can never exactly be duplicated.
The number of different journeys that we can make across even a small patch of the landscape must logically therefore be infinite. But once that first decision is made – to start in a particular place, as opposed to an almost identical one a hair’s breadth to the right or left, the remaining range of possible routes is constrained. Only by a fractional amount, but the range of possibilities is no longer infinite…just very, very, very large. This is a difficult distinction to grasp, I’m aware I could be accused of splitting hairs here….I don’t think so, though, as it’s crucial to explaining what would otherwise seem paradoxical : a limited landscape across which one may take infinitely many different journeys. The possibilities for each specific journey, however, are limited, (although initially still huge)and become more so as the journey progresses.
So finite and infinite at the same time, depending on which level you look 🙂 A characteristic of emergent systems, if I remember rightly.
Phew…having (hopefully) dragged everyone with me up a slippery and steep logical peak, time for a bit of a pause…don’t know about anyone else, but I could do with a cuppa (the veiw’s pretty good from up here as well) and a little rest before we try and get to grips with ‘noise’..and why the landscape itself is limited.
Silent, upon a peak in Darien…. 🙂
Fractals – she related to illustration 4 as presenting fractals, both inside the “tube” and out of it and at the same time she saw the possibility of a meta-form that is the framework of mechanical infrastructure or whatever name can be placed here. It connects in my mind to weak measurements in physics – I’ll get there in a different post. I think it can also help present in another way the finite/infinite issue or answers to questions like “how do you know it’s the right way” concerning storytelling.
The notion of not being able to tell the same story connected to the use of decision trees you talk about is what I think creates one of the serious gaps for gaming trying to become storytelling.
While you’re having some tea it seems to me the word ‘noise’ I’ve used is not the right word. Will have to think about it… thanks
“how do you know it’s the right way” – to my mind that implies intentionality – good question…suppose it’s to do with being more or less familiar with particular bits of the landscape. Storytellers being people who are good at particular types of pattern recognition and extrapolation ?
Hadn’t seriously thought about stories and fractals, but in one sense it’s obvious, I suppose; one of the characteristics of fractals (in my limited understanding) is that a simple expression can generate limitless levels of complexity. Stories can be expressed in very compressed summaries – plots – but also contain (almost, as we’ve discussed :)) limitless levels of complexity. Makes sense, therefore, that the telling of the story would also exhibit fractal characteristics.
I was thinking about decision trees simply to explore a logical point, but I’ve no doubt you’re right about them in the gaming context…the other issue I can imagine might be the difficulty of making any particular branch sufficiently ‘dense’ with options for a satisfying experience. They’re very linear as well, which makes them easy for programmers but of only limited use for storytellers…bit of a blunt tool, as once you’ve made your choice at any given point the rest of the possibilities at that level collapse. I have a strong feeling that that’s not what happens in the story landscape – even as the choice is made I think we retain (to a greater or lesser extent) some knowledge of ‘the road not taken’ as well…part of what adds richness and depth to the experience. Your appreciation of the wya things unfold may very well be informed by some consciousness of other ways that it could have gone, in other words.
I too think we retain some knowledge of ‘the road not taken’ as well… I think it creates richness that keeps the mind from being ‘fixed’ and a form of humbleness within a practicing storyteller. We look back after we’ve taken a decision (the refusal to the call in the hero’s journey). Then we live the decision path and the possibilities not explore fade some but not fully. See Frodo Baggins with “I wish all this never happened”… for me that is one of the most powerful lines in that story.
the shared consciousness of the ‘road not taken’ then becomes a hostage to fortune for the teller and audience – humbling, as you rightly say.
For a long time I’ve had a mental image of paths of story running parallel to each other, without quite knowing what it was referring to…in some respects I’m thinking about time (the past doesn’t disappear, it just recedes, gets further and further from the current path)..but there’s something else there as well, something about possibiliites.
Maybe the really rich storyjourneys are those with many, many parallel paths not taken, and travelling along one or another of them (the closer they are, the easier it is to move from one to another) one is also aware of a multitude of echoes…
You know, one of the voices I have in the back of my mind while telling is “where is it, where is it?”. It’s not a “oh I’m lost” voice but rather “where is it exactly this time” voice, a sort of gyroscope. Hmmm…
Right, tea drunk, refreshed and ready to go again!
Landscapes and limits first – my feeling is that however you define it, the meta-landscape is necessarily limited, as the very act of definition must include boundary conditions. This is partly because I don’t find it very helpful to just say ‘story encompasses everything’ (For all practical purposes one may consider in infinite, but that’s not the same at all) but mainly because one of the more attractive features of a landscape, real, imagined or philosphical is differentiation. This bit isn’t that bit. I would infer from that there must also exist bits which aren’t any bit (if you see what I mean). In other words, it’s finite. It might be very very large indeed, but it is eventually bounded.
That’s not to say anything about the creative or any other possibilities for exploration – these may well be limitless (see previous comment), just that the space itself is limited (although vast).
For me, this chimes well with ideas about the relative paucity of different basic plots and the basic principle that freedom without constraints is meaningless.
Speaking of meaning….’noise’…it’s exactly the right word, I reckon. I gave a little cheer when I read that, Limor…it’s taken me ages to work out why, though…think I’ve got it now, and it’s (annoyingly) simple 🙂
‘Noise’ surely implies lack of pattern, or lack of meaning – the further down the path of a particular telling one travels, the more the other paths simply become un-necessary, become noise…become meaningless.
Let’s say your journey to this point has taken you up one side of a valley in the story landscape. At the next turn of the path you could theoretically jump to the other side of the valley, or to a near-by peak. You could, but it would change the nature of the current story journey so radically as to render it nonsense. Meaningless noise in other words. Although a well structured story journey is a remarkably robust thing, there are some transitions that are just to abrupt, some twists that simply do such violence that something breaks…the thread of the story snaps, and everyone on the journey suddenly feels lost, and let down. (There’s whole oceans of stuff to be written about how easy modern media makes it to get seriously lost, and is perhaps even altering our inherent sense of direction, and why it’s very important to bring everyone back safely)
Hope I’m not the only one who is finding real beauty in the patterns we’re all drawing together in the sand…
I’m enjoying drawing patterns in the sand very much. Sand it better than carving in stone on these issues. I also want to thank you for your contribution to the conversation.
Definitions must include boundaries. In a straightforward manner I don’t think we could have this conversation if we were not looking at the entire phenomena also from outside. Reading about landscape my mind is starting to tickle with the notion that there is a storyteller here in Israel who is blind since birth. She never saw anything. When you ask her about the telling process and visualization she says she sees the story. So I asked her how it can be. She speaks about connecting sensations to words. She can describe how red is different from brown. I think I’ll ask her to conduct an interview – what she has to say might be very important here.
So you like the word ‘noise’ and I suddenly think it’s not quite… it’s a ‘sound’ word and after looking at it again I think it’s more about the narrative not bouncing anything back anymore into the visual consciousness. Does that ring a bell? Maybe it’s about nothing sensual we can grip our consciousness to. No pattern or recognizable detail.
The leaps you’re describing, the ones that don’t connect – young kids spot them out very quickly and they can tell they don’t “feel right”. Adults can do that too but they are many times captivated by the ‘possibilities’ which makes them overlook the fact that their body says “this can’t be, something about the pattern is wrong”.
…and of course the sea rushes in and erases half the drawing, and you have to start again 🙂
Now very eager to read interview with blind storyteller, what a great idea/perspective!
I agree, kids are very good at spotting deviations from ‘the pattern’, even if they’ve never heard an oral narrative before (one of many reasons why I remain convinced this is hard-wired into consciousness), but why locate this sense of narrative in the body for adults? Do you have a specific reason for this ?
Notice we are talking about the possibility of erasing to make a place for a new creation – like blowing away a sand mandala.
If I get your question right – many adults neglect or push aside this part of the narrative of storytelling. They dismiss the involvement of the body. Am I answering your question?
I agree that adults are far less sensitive to somatic cues than children – are you saying the mind is more likely to be distracted by novelty (oh look ! Shiny thing! :)) whilst the body retains more of a sense of the overall rootedness of the story?
If people are not authentic to themselves? I think so, yes.
‘no pattern or recognizable detail’ – that’s exactly what I was taking ‘noise’ to mean (nothing to do with sound, as such), which is why I thought it was so apt…
Think that’s a really fundamental distinction you’re making there – if you’re wanting to say the underlying sense of narrative is primarily somatic that implies to me that it is also sub (or even) pre – conscious. Am I getting you right?
Don’t necessarily disagree, just wanted to be clear – because this has huge implications, especially if you still want to say (sic!) that language is the prime narrative vehicle.
There’s some interesting stuff going on in perceptual psychology and research into brain functions that seems to be knocking holes in Chomsky’s notions about how deeply the language apparatus is embedded, amongst other things…mind you, I think there’s an important philosophical distinction to be made here (often missed by the more empirically based of the researchers) between what can be empirically proved to be going on and what we actually think is going on. It’s more than just the difference between proximate and ultimate explanations. It’s entirely possible that a lot more of our behaviour than we’d really like is predicated on sub-conscious processes, but that’s not the point. We explain ourselves according to the model we have in our heads, i.e. what we think is going on. People tend to get hung-up on the conflicts between the empirical reality and our internal constructions, but that’s because they’re expecting consistency, and tend to underestimate our inherent ability to hold several logically conflicting beliefs at once.
In a pragmatic sense stories have great utility because (amongst many other things) they don’t follow strict logical patterns, and may successfully combine completely contradictory elements…
This comment of yours is making me smile but also switches on a reflective quality – how am I going to say what I want to say?! So I’ll try and go slowly because I feel my language in the written form is not elaborate enough:
I see the connection between somatic (relationship) and the vocal (patterned movement) as what creates the defining unique quality of storytelling when it comes to text (thought). I can’t say since I’m not sure or think it is important which is first or primordial. On the contrary, I think that the above in the dynamic interdependent form is storytelling. Language can be so limiting sometimes…
Sub-conscious and conscious happen at the same time in our art. You write “We explain ourselves according to the model we have in our heads, i.e. what we think is going on. People tend to get hung-up on the conflicts between the empirical reality and our internal constructions, but that’s because they’re expecting consistency, and tend to underestimate our inherent ability to hold several logically conflicting beliefs at once” which is very very much where I see people not ‘getting’ storytelling. Along this conversation we’ve noticed several times that what we storytellers see as obvious are things people not only misinterpret, but don’t even notice!
Hey Limor ,
Nice to chance upon this insightful conversation , i too have a deep interest in communication methods and story telling i am working on a grid like structure capturing the twists and folds in story telling or communication for that matter , for me its not uni dimentional its two way speaker -listner to get to unified goal of what i call personification i.e as i define it the attempt to give attributes to a given character/part of the story . One questian here …should grids be consisting of 2 dimensions or can it have up to 8 thats the grid structure i have in mind i was a little surprised to see that grid be only 2D and if it be 2D then for all practical purposes i would apply the listner – teller as the 2 parts making it up .you can also correspond with me on my e – mail
Hi Nidhi & welcome,
Happy to hear you have interest in this kind of grid. Answering your question – no, the grid is not 2D, only it’s representation on the page; It is multi-dimensional and dynamic, all the time in motion.
I’ll be happy to see your work if you can send me somewhere to see it. Regards,
I was delighted to hear from you to begin with … i am going to hold a workshop on story telling in Pune , Maharashtra, India on 23/24 the July i will be taking down videos . i would also like to invite you or any of the like minded practitioners you might know to attend it .Do write in to my personal e-mail id for details … Do you know of some website where i can do a quicker post of it or may be i send you in the snail- mail .
The grid is just one of the tools in use as a teller ,i.e to record the evalutation of the listner in a class room set up . It does however represent an important aspect of the story telling process , the listeners part of it . What do you think of it ?
Attending a workshop in Pune is not realistic for me right now, but thank you for letting me know about it. If you are looking for a place to post the info I suggest you try any kind of platform that has an “event” feature – there are plenty of those – social networks and event listings.
The grid you mentioned is an interesting idea – how do you record the evaluation?
Hi Limor ,
I’d like to prsent a link here which i found insight full in the grid system of recording evaluation . I have modified it subituting the Horizontal Blocks with listner types and vertical coulm with the names odf the participants ticking out the data as observed …the link is : http://www.lpg.fsu.edu/charting/InstructionalStrategies/howto-tactics/ht-k5egrid.asp
tell me if it was useful
Hi Nidhi, thanks for sharing. Can you say more about the listener types? how are they defined?