In search of a storytelling ‘grid’ | part V | Utterance

By Limor Shiponi

Back to the core model of storytelling, starting to examine its components. Remember this entire search was initiated in order to find possible common ground between various practices whose members state they are connected to storytelling one way or another. As usual, you are welcome to make any comment.

Utterance is a spoken expression, something said. It isn’t the final station of a text though. Since storytelling is a dynamic exchange we want to consider how the spoken is affected by the understood which in turn effects the utterance again and again, like molding bread-dough. For storytellers it is one third of the entire exchange. Looking at the accumulating amount of story practitioners though, it seems many of them are busy mainly with the components of this part of storytelling. My guess is that it is because text is the more tangible part and it can be packaged in many ways. In many cases it is also scalable business wise and can sit under the rule of copyright claimed by its author. In a world busy possessing, it might seem like a good business choice.

Definitions for this discussion (and you can shake them or suggest others if you wish)

Narrative is the playground of what will eventually materialize into a story event including the medium. Endless pieces of information, connections, sensations etc. (Narrative and story are words that carry many meanings for different people. Here is a position posted by Shawn Callahan just yesterday on Anecdote’s blog where he refers to a post by John Hagel and you will find many many more).

Plot is a choice taken in the narrative. A linear path of actions meeting details put in a certain way. This is mainly a mental process and it can elicit different paths.

Story is the emotional arch that rises in the listener – listening to the plot, using parts of the narrative, some of them not mentioned at all in the plot. This is mainly an emotional process and it is unique to every single listener.

The plot’s influence on the narrative is – structure.

The way the story is expressed in the plot is – theme.

The purification of story in the narrative is – metaphor.

All the above is interconnected and works in mutual influence.

Possible relations to practices

I don’t think I can cover every suggestion since various people see and call what they are doing in so many ways. Remeber this is only about the utterance – we still have the messanger and the witness to look at and many practitioners incorporate traits from there too.

Just for starters: people who work a lot with metaphors can be poets and brand strategists; people who work with theme can be strategic consultants and if they know structures they might be good with tactics too or creating brand stories; those who feel comfortable working with theme and metaphor can help organizations elicit and extract their true vision; screenplay writers and journalists are great with narrative (research), plot (line of actions), theme (because they have a ‘nose’ for what moves people), structure (they need to put their compositions into formats) while authors are also very good with metaphor on top of all mentioned here; researchers can be narrative experts as are marketing practitioners collecting user stories and other massive amounts of anecdotes for decision makers to look at; they can also be in the sense making arena, just like knowledge managers; psychologists looking at narrative will easily extract theme and possible stories with their reflections.

This is only a short list of possibilities locating story practitioners’ practices on the complex storytelling ‘grid’. I’ll be happy to read your suggestions.

17 thoughts on “In search of a storytelling ‘grid’ | part V | Utterance”

  1. Missed a few days of this, catching up. First, intuitively I find the swirling-cylinder diagram in your previous post EXTREMELY satisfying. It feels perfect as a representation of what happens when a narrative event is taking place.

    However, I can’t place my work on it. In order to be able to place something in a space, the space has to include MORE than what is placed; if EVERYONE answers “yes, all of that” we have not mapped anything. In other words, in order to know where we are, we need to have some places where we are NOT. All of your diagrams so far, while wonderfully insightful, have not given me (and maybe some others?) anywhere to NOT be.

    (This is partly in reply to Karen’s comment, which I missed the other day while getting my own blog post out.) Of course as a human being I tell stories constantly. What I mean when I say I don’t tell stories in my work is that telling stories does not constitute my ESSENTIAL role in the projects I support. What is essential about my role is catalyzing story exchange and sensemaking. Whatever storytelling I do that naturally enters into it could be removed without damaging the project, but if my role as a catalyst was removed, the project would be damaged.

    I think of it like this. All the parts on a heater get warm, but only the heating element is MEANT to transmit heat. What I want to map is what all the parts of the heater are meant to do, not whether they get warm. I want to understand the heater, not heat.

    I would argue that no map of story work can be complete if every single story practitioner cannot find two things: places to be and places to NOT be. If ANYONE can place themselves either everywhere or nowhere, it is not a useful map. When I say places to not be, I don’t mean people NEVER do that, just like I don’t mean I never tell stories. What I mean is that people should be able to find places that are ESSENTIAL to their work, and places that are NOT essential to their work.

    For example Karen’s web site says she does story coaching, meaning, helping people learn how to tell polished stories. I do not. That is a valid “place” to put on the map. My web site says I report on statistical trends in compiled interpretations by people asked about their own stories. I don’t think Karen does that, or if she does it is not an ESSENTIAL element of her work. So that is a valid place to put on the map. Some story workers write stories for clients. I don’t do that. Again, a valid place for the map. It would not be hard to come up with a list of “lands” for such a map; we all define what we do (and don’t do) in our own promotional materials.

    That is the kind of map I was hoping to build together when I asked Madelyn for the spot on WWSW, and it’s still the kind of map I hope to build. My primary motivation was to reach out and interact with people who do what I don’t do, and who don’t do what I do. That’s why I need a map that shows our DIVERSITY more than our consistency.

    What YOU are building here, Limor, is your own map, with your own goals. I respect that. It does not suit MY needs, but that’s not your fault! I wonder if I should start a discussion of the map-of-professional-narrative-diversity I am looking to build elsewhere?

    1. Hi Cynthia, I think you are absolutely right about the diagrams presented so far not giving everyone a place to NOT be.

      You are adding the words ‘essential role’ ‘catalyst’ ‘meant to’ ‘transmit’ and this is really important. On the way to map what all the parts of the heater are meant to do we will have to look at more parts than have been presented up till now. Parts which help manage, perform, negate, analyze, aggregate, decide, make sense, sort, categorize, negotiate etc.

      I love your terms for the validity of such a map for story practitioners: places to be and places to NOT be connected to essential/non essential for performing their work. I think we are going that way; it’s too early for me to think we are not. The consistency you see right now comes from what I called before zoom-out. Everything presented is essential for storytelling. Starting to zoom-in (deconstructing really) will bring us to those ‘islands’ that people can say ‘here I stand’ ‘here I don’t stand’ when it comes to the essentials of what story practitioners are doing, as well as understanding what storytellers need to learn and practice when building their ability.

      I’ll tell you why I’m inviting you to continue this discussion together for now; in that initial call on WWSW you also mentioned a kind of uncomfortable dead-end feeling when practitioners meet storytellers. Some sort of gap that ends up with “you’re not a storyteller” from tellers to practitioners or “you don’t have the tools to understand what I’m doing in the professional business/organizational domains” from practitioners to tellers. I think that part of the answer to this gap is taking this voyage of really looking into it together, which as far as I know never properly happened up till today. Separate discussions might perpetuate the gap.

  2. Great process!

    Storytelling is an intentional act that requires the energy back from the audience within the act and as the storytelling is happening. It does not happen by accidental utterance.

    We are not telling stories all day long. We may be communicating, we may be gossiping, we may be making small talk, we might be lecturing, we might be preaching, we might be making videos, we might be writing an employee handbook. *Sometimes* we are storytelling within those expressions and then only in the spoken expressions.

    Not ever utterance is story.

    Why the confusion? To use a vernacular expression, “Storytelling is cool and it sound more fun to say than “teaching” or “lecturing” or “writing a customer service manual.”

    Question: are you saying all story requires or morphs into metaphor? I would gently disagree with that.

    1. Yes, saying “I’m doing storytelling” is sexier, I’ve mentioned that in the past. I’d like to see all those people saying they are doing storytelling walk the earth with the title “storyteller” alone…

      Answer: I don’t think all story requires or morphs into metaphor. It happens only under certain circumstances. Looking at those circumstances could be interesting though.

  3. Sean – yes, the reciprocity is absolutely essential for it to be storytelling…I think I’d probably want to connect that with some sort of intention as well.

    I wouldn’t say that all story requires, or morphs into metaphor, but I do think there are certain necessities around the removal of the ‘I’ from the narrative for it to work in the way we’re characterising (for want of a better word) as ‘storytelling’. There has to be enough room for the audience to enter into the storyspace and engage in the co-creation of the world of the story

  4. Pingback: Art of storytelling discussion 9 | Limor's Storytelling Agora

  5. Wonderful clarification Cynthia and I agree with all of your observations. And I applaud Limor for continuing to articulate the dynamics of a story event in ways that are rich, meaningful, and add depth to our work.

    Yes, I coach business leaders in becoming storytellers, and even then I don’t tell stories much. I am in the listening, patterning, sense making, evaluating, reflecting, resonating, etc. modes of story work.

    When I work with organizations around their stories, I am doing all the same ethnographic, qualitative research I’ve been trained to do that includes the listening, patterning, sense making, evaluating, reflecting, resonating, etc. modes of story work. My focus just shifts from the individual to the collective stance. And of course, when I work with an individual, I am still focusing on how the individual is connected to the collective — but my attention to the collective is in the background. So maybe what we are chatting about here are skill sets that recede into the background or are in the foreground, depending on the context.

    I do have an application map of the field of story work in business that I’m happy to share with everyone. I also have a map of industries involved in story work. And I have a beginning map of application skills (for lack of better terminology). If you’d like these, simply email me from my website http://www.polaris-associates.com. I think a much more comprehensive list of skills could be effectively mapped out and if anyone wants to tackle this with me, just let me know.

    Cynthia, I agree wholeheartedly about how storytellers and practitioners need to be looking together at our work, instead of creating dichotomies that diminish us instead of expand us. I’ve experienced that ‘dead-end’ feeling all too often! I look forward to those opportunities.

    1. Karen, I would like to see many maps coalescing, yours Limors mine and anybody else’s who wants to participate (I like Shawn’s yin/yang map). Ideally we would all be in a room and we would all draw our maps on big sheets of paper and study them together. How can we do that online?

      1. That is a lovely wish and I can see Karen made a suggestion and intends to check it out. At the same time my own intention to map the entire domain is starting to feel “what for?”. Somewhere in the discussions with Allan we’ve reached the matter of finite/infinite concerning the narrative of a storytelling event. This is going to be a huge work which makes me ask myself – what for really? Is it possible we should be mapping something else?

        This is exactly the point where I and other storytellers involved in the past in such discussions with story practitioners start feeling awkward. Interesting to notice what triggers it. For me it is an important notion concerning this endeavor.

        1. ‘What for’ ? good question 🙂

          Maybe not necessary to map the whole place in detail – others will come along to do that, given half a chance – more important to get some sense of where the edges are, what the main landscape features might be….and if it’s not helping you get where you want to go then either you’ve got it upside down or you need another map altogether ! 🙂

  6. Hi everyone

    Now…this is getting really interesting! It’s always in the boundaries, the crossing-over places that you find the best stuff – in this case there seems to be a particularly rich seam to be mined in this cross-over/boundary between ‘storytellers’ and ‘practitioners’. I agree with Limor, when it starts to get awkward, that’s the place to start digging. No shortage of spades amongst the assembled company, so I’m sure we’ll dig some good stuff up 🙂

    Should perhaps say that in relation to this particular zone on the map, although I’ve some small experience as a practitioner, and more as a storyteller, my inclination here is to draw another veve altogether – philosopher/trickster/thief? Not sure precisely….dancin’ in the dust…lest we all take this too, too seriously 🙂

    …and I’ve got to say right off that looks like there’s at least two different maps being drawn here, not just different ways of looking at the same thing thing, but different territories alltogether…

    To start with, I thought, like Cynthia, that this was all about finding a place to stand in terms of what you do/don’t do, and looking for some commonly understood way of delineating that.

    Then it started to get very process-oriented with your drawings, Limor, and there’s another map about a different landscape which has to do somewhat with content and somewhat with the fundamental processes of oral storytelling – rich territory/discussion..

    The two maps (for want of a better word) are obviously linked in some fundamental way (presumably you have to be able to navigate the content/process landscape to be able to place yourself on the other map) – or am I looking at this wrong and seeing a distinction where none exists?

    Maybe that’s where the borderline territory between practitioners/tellers lies …. difficult because it looks different depending on which direction you’re coming from (so to speak)…don’t mind admitting to being confused, but that’s OK. Maybe it’s just a category error 🙂

    1. I think you are right about the different maps. My though about this is a comment on part VI:

      In order to perform what story practitioners call storytelling applications, they augment certain traits that exist in the storytelling domain that best serve the work they wish to execute in other practices.

      In order to perform what storytellers call storytelling, they need to balance all the traits that exist in the storytelling domain.

      In order to perform what storytellers call storytelling applications, they augment certain traits that exist in the storytelling domain that best serve the work they wish to execute in storytelling.

      How does that feel?

      1. Agree that storytelling is about balancing all the traits in that domain – frankly I don’t really know enough about what is generally understood to constitute storytelling applications (regardless of who is doing them) to make a judgement on that one…

        Leaving landscapes aside for a moment, starting to think in terms of some type of three dimensional venn diagramme…

  7. Pingback: In search of a storytelling ‘grid’ | Part VII | What is story-work made of? : Limor's Storytelling Agora

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