Developing Discipline: Story Architecture — Part 2

Navigation

Almost like creating chess rules and then planning the moves

So, now that we have spoken about ‘what’ is Story Architecture (SA) in Part 1: Introduction, it’s time we move onto the ‘how’: How to bring SA into practice?

Well, as I had said in the earlier article, SA draws parallels to ‘Gamification’ with regards to its purpose — enhance engagement for immersive experience*. What needs to be kept in mind is that it’s about using only the relevant elements in the framework being created.

What do ‘elements’ here mean? These are fairly intuitive. Just as the terms ‘points’, ‘levels’, ‘badges’ and ‘rewards’ come into mind with games, the narrative elements or parts of SA can be considered terms traditionally associated with stories. Let’s list them out for better clarity.

PARTS OF STORY ARCHITECTURE

SETTING

Immersive space for the experience that is defined and governed by certain rules

PLOT

The narrative journey of and for the characters, unfolding with time

CHARACTERS

Personifications (or embodiment of human attributes) in the setting, navigating through the plot, transforming in the process

LANGUAGE

The tonal presentation and pace of the plot and the character

Note the definitions. It is not exactly standard to the traditional story (i.e. setting is not limited to location, characters are not confined to physical beings and language is not just the narration). The broad descriptions are given to keep some breathing space for fluidity in interpretation and application depending on the requirements.

As pointed out by Andy Raskin (Point #4 in The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen, although mentioned in the context of creating a pitch) a lot can be achieved through allusion and attribution. The idea is to know what to be kept in focus around which the architecture is to be built. For instance, if we take the example of a travel agency that wants to showcase a destination to potential tourist as adventure spot, then the experience created:

OPTION 1

…keeping PLOT as the focus point can have a chronological sequence of events explored with fictionalised characters (e.g. base on tourists) subtly revealing all the features and offerings of the setting (destination).

OPTION 2

…keeping SETTING as focus point can have information about the space systematically revealed through defined language (e.g. interactive documentary) for the real-life characters (tourists themselves) to access it.

OPTION 3

…keeping CHARACTERS as focus point can have the preferences of tourists played out in the setting (destination) creating a plot (their journey)

Obviously, these options were only to illustrate few possibilities and are by no means exhaustive. The point here is that (1) the decision of selecting the part to keep the focus on along with (2) forming the combination for others are the crucial first steps in developing and applying SA. This has to be strategically thought out (because it is almost like creating chess rules and then planning the moves). We will discuss each of the parts in detail in later posts with more examples.

At this point, it’s important to (re)iterate that SA isn’t just creating a story, although it may include doing so. It is more about creating a framework for a story (or stories) to be realised and experienced. While a story, when told, validates its own existence, SA is a design practice validating itself through the audience and the effectiveness of storytelling. It is because of this the use term ‘Architecture’ is apt as it’s a place designed for someone else to live and experience in it.

Furthermore, the usage of the parts of SA greatly depends on the level at which SA is being applied. In the quest to develop the discipline, I have segregated the degree of complexities involved into 3 levels for the ease of understanding (and explaining).

LEVELS OF STORY ARCHITECTURE

LEVEL 1: GATEWAY

Using storytelling parts in the form of primary or secondary introduction to the experience or an aspect of it.

E.g. Google: Reunion

LEVEL 2: WALK-THROUGH

Using storytelling parts in a way to disseminate information about the experience or certain aspects of it

E.g. Chilli Paneer

LEVEL 3: CUSTOMIZATION

Using storytelling parts in a structure for interaction through the experience or most aspects of it

E.g. Axe Anarchy

Note that these examples are just to give an idea about the varying levels of complexities in conceptualization and creation. There will be a detailed analysis done in the later posts.

The most common form (and assumption) of applied storytelling (especially used in advertising, if at all) in popular perception (much to my irritation, at times) works at GATEWAY level. Don’t get me wrong — these do work well if they are executed well (see reviews of Google: Reunion) and sometimes are suitable for the situations. Truth be told, the general preference of working at GATEWAY level is also because working at WALK-THROUGH and CUSTOMIZATION level increases the intensity of ideation, investment and implementation. But if done right, the implications can be incredible (see reviews of Chilli Paneer and Axe Anarchy).

And that is where the involving and incorporating SA from the initial stages, can help.

Until, next time.

(Go back to Part 1: Introduction or continue reading more about SA on Part 3: Evaluation)

*You may wonder why I keep using this word a lot — Experience. When I say ‘Experience’ in the context of SA, I am talking about an ecosystem created with a purpose and takeaway — be it a economical (for business) or entertainment (as art) or educational (to teach). I believe the discipline of SA is relevant to all three domains, though the usage may differ on case-to-case basis.