The Story Spine

July 5th, 2007

This is the third time this week someone has asked me about The Story Spine, so I thought I’d share it here. It’s not my idea – I first found it on the web and then learnt more about it from Kat Koppett’s excellent book Training to Imagine. I’ve used it with groups for reflecting, celebrating and planning.

It goes like this:

Once upon a time…

Every day…

Until one day…

Because of that…

Because of that…

Because of that… (repeat as needed)

Until finally…

If I’m using it with a group that’s anti-storytelling (or want a ‘serious’ approach) I’ll introduce it as a framework that explores the current situation, a catalysing action, consequences and outcomes. When they glaze over from the obscure language, I’ll introduce the corresponding Story Spine elements. Like this:

Current situation (Once upon a time…/Every day…)

Catalysing action (Until one day…)

Consequences (Because of that… x n)

Outcomes (Until finally…)

It’s one of the best planning tools I’ve used.

3 Comments so far

  1. Shawn Callahan on July 10, 2007 9:31 pm

    Hi Viv, I used a version of this story spine a couple of weeks ago in a workshop designed to help an organisation develop a knowledge strategy. It worked extremely well because by telling the story about an issue in the organisation (related to knowledge flow) they made sense of what was going on and were in a better position to to design interventions. I was inspired to take this approach after this incident with my dad.

    Last week I spent a week with my parents at their home at Jervis Bay. My father was telling me how he had some problems with a tank of petrol recently. He had to drain his little Datsun truck of all its fuel. When I asked where he got the bad gas he said it was one of two places. “One of the service stations was being refuelled by a tanker and was probably churning up all the rubbish in the underground tanks and I happened to fill up when all that muck was floating around,” he said. “I will never fill up again if I see a tanker parked at the service station.”

    My first attempt at getting people to tell a story to explain an issue in a workshop was a failure. I simple asked to groups to tell a story. They didn’t really know what I meant. So using the story spine was an excellent way to guide them through the process.

  2. Marc Baizman on July 23, 2007 7:07 pm

    Interesting, this is one of the earliest improvisational theater games I learned. The idea behind it was that you don’t need to know exactly what will happen next, and you can tell what makes a “good” story from a “bad” story (in terms of audience expectations) – i.e. was the problem resolved by the “until finally” statement.

  3. Tweets that mention Viv McWaters -- on November 1, 2010 4:02 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AWooldridge (storyt), Amanda Fenton. Amanda Fenton said: Love this Story Spine via @vivmcw […]

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