Thanks to the May 2017 #play14 event in Milan, Italy, May 4–May 6, I joined a workshop on Storyleading, a game created by Marco Matera and Fabio Gariboldi, to help teams refine stories.
What follows is an analysis of Storyleading, a story-refinement game, based on that one-hour workshop. I have applied my own thoughts and perspectives to the authors’ introduction, explanations, and to the actual experience. The games’ creators underlined that in a real-case scenario, it may take up to three days to complete a meaningful Storyleading process. Moreover, the game enables you to measure the overall improvement and contribution from each team member. Such metrics may or may not be useful for the team, according to specific objectives, but in the current analysis, I will skip this feature to focus on what the basic mechanism offers.
The objective of the Storyleading game is to improve story effectiveness. It exploits team collaboration, refinement iterations, and a specific storytelling model that ultimately shapes the mechanism. The model indeed acts as a reference system for the refinement actions, while each team member focuses on a specific element of the model.
Storyleading assumes that storytelling has three dimensions:
- Structure: Considers a tale made up of typical parts (you can go back to your favorite academic reference or handbook on these topics), among which the plot defines relationships: relative weight, tension lines, cliff-hangers, and so on.
- Knowledge: Relates to the "factual" contents of the tale so that in proper scenarios it can be related to the author’s domain competence.
- Emotion: Takes into account both the emotive impact and the passion communicated by the tale.
These three dimensions define a narrative space, which the authors visualized in their introduction as a geometrical three-dimensional space. However, I suggest mapping it by a radar chart for reasons that will be clear as soon as we consider the game steps.
Storyleading assumes four-member teams and two roles:
- Author (one person): Responsible for presenting and recounting the tale, answering editors’ questions, collecting suggestions, and reworking the tale.
- Editor (three people; larger teams may want to distribute editing responsibilities): Each editor has the following responsibilities:
- Choosing the narrative dimension she will look after (to gain an effective focus)
- Carefully listening to the tale
- Evaluating the tale
- Asking for clarification and offering suggestions according to the narrative dimension of interest
Storyleading supports a typical editing activity through a process, and possible iterations of the process itself. Each iteration works on a tale as raw material; in particular, the first one works on the draft of the story (Storyleading assumes that you have a raw story; it does not support the assembling of the plot). Steps and iterations are timeboxed. Below are the timeboxes used in the workshop.
Complete the editing activity by following these steps:
The author introduces and tells the story to the team.
Editors analyze and evaluate the story according to its structure, knowledge, and emotional features. Each editor evaluates all three dimensions (not only the one the editor cares about).
The evaluation is based on a scale from 1 to 5 for each dimension, and that’s why I consider the radar chart an effective visualization tool for the game — it allows you to keep the three dimensions separate. An evaluation from each editor or from successive iterations may be superimposed to give a view of the outcomes and a starting point for retrospective analysis.
A radar chart to trace editors’ evaluation. "Start" refers the initial version of the story, and "End” to the revised version. In this case, the "emotion" score is decreased. Now the point becomes: What is the better version?
Team members each ask the author about a specific issue or point out weaknesses and suggest improvements. Storyleading supports this phase with a set of inspiration cards, each one proposing a short sentence about a particular plot element (e.g., introduction, cliff-hanger, continuities or discontinuities, and so on). Thus, cards bring focus to the editor's reflection, avoiding any editing impasse. Editors must decline suggestions according to their specific dimension of interest. The author and the editor discuss the suggestion, and finally the author declares whether he or she considers the suggestion useful.
The author collects the suggestions and modifies the current story.
The author recounts the new version of the story.
Editors evaluate the new version.
The workshops did not exploit iteration, but in actual cases, I assume that you should consider a an additional phase to act as a checkpoint.
The team discusses the story and the modifications and decides whether further improvements are needed. If improvements are necessary, the team starts a new refinement cycle (from the Suggest
step); otherwise, it stops. Debriefing
is the only phase in which the players work as a team. It may be conducted as a differential analysis among different story versions. This perspective requires that the team consider the effects of any single modification (and you need only to write each version on a different sheet of paper).
Storyleading appears to be an effective tool for story refinement. Its simple narrative model and rules make it easy for participants to play and enjoy the game. Storyleading process and materials (e.g., inspiration cards) are abstracts of actual scenarios, so it’s up to the team to feed discussions and suggestions with their own case details. During the workshop, the four teams presented two slices of life, a success case, and a project-introduction story.
The main point is that Storyleading flexibility requires players to carefully set the scenario. They must clarify the context, the objective, and the intended audience for the story. The most intriguing case (at least for the possible game facilitator) is the one that produces story versions that, with regard to the previous one, perform better in some dimensions and worse in others. In this case, the understanding the scenario is of importance, as long as it gives some indications on the relative weight of the narrative dimensions (e.g., competence over structure). Ensure that such details are shared and agreed across the team as part of the setting. As mentioned earlier, Storyleading comes with a score mechanism to allow improvement measurement, but always be aware that the team is fully responsible for the choice. Remember that metrics are to be used — do not be used by metrics.
Storyleading focuses on refinement through editing and reworking. Thus the plot should be assembled prior to starting. You can take inspiration from Storyleading to build the story, but it is definitely a different challenge, and you are better off resorting to specific tools.
To avoid missing precious hints, note every suggestion. It can be useful to collect them as Post-it notes on paper, properly clustered (even according to the story dimension they refer to, such as knowledge, emotion, and structure). Collected notes can also feed a possible final debriefing session.
A typical case is when the team agrees that story weakness depends strongly on one dimension. In fact, the whole team may focus on that dimension. An interesting test is to conduct different sessions, switching the dimension of interest among editors in each session.
#play14 – Milan 2017 (event), http://play14.org/events/milano/2017-05
Storyleading homepage (under construction), http://www.storyleading.it/