The Story Spine and the Canvas

Recently, I had the opportunity to be refreshed on some fundamental storytelling techniques. One technique that earned my attention as a graphic recorder, either with traditional graphic recording on large sheet or my style of graphicnotes, is the Kenn Adam’s Story Spine technique in which the idea follows the classic fairytale framework.

If you’re not familiar with this technique allow me a quick diversion, as it will help later in this post. The Story Spine is a sequence of uncompleted starter sentences that define the story frame. These starters are; Once upon a time…, Every day…, Until one day…, Because of that…, Because of that…, Because of that…, Until finally…, Ever since then… This framework works wonderfully for quickly conveying a story about anything and it also gave me an idea for adapting to graphic recording.

Since we are those whom capture a flow of conversation I was wonder if graphic recorders could not have a “Story Spine” of our own. I understand that much of what we do is “in the moment”, yet idea of storytelling structure to graphic recording is quite intriguing and could change the game for reflection later on by the viewer.

So the challenge was to identify the various parts of graphic recording, especially in a business-meeting environment, and identify a possible Story Spine on the canvas. So I began the dissecting and pairing.

For graphic recorders, “Once upon a time…” is the establishing graphic of time, place and whom. We use clocks, calendar pages and so on visually record time and place is usually recorded as a stage, building or city. For who is expressed as people with nametags or a single person with a nameplate. The beginning is pretty clear.

Now we record the traditional pattern, “Every day…” In business, this is the ritual or rut of doing business. Sometimes we draw this as the process or mechanics of the client or event being reviewed.

“Until one day…” is identified as the catalyst or interrupt for the need to change. Remember, when we are brought in to co-facilitate as graphic recorders, the client is usually faced with a challenge or dilemma and is hoping to visualize a solution, so identifying the issue is key to the purpose of the recording.

For every action, there is a reaction. For every cause there is an effect. “Because of that…” illustrates this well. By using forms of mind mapping or context links from action statements we can progress the thinking in its various possibilities and diversions “Until Finally…” we achieve the near end of our recording, “The Big Idea”. This is the pinnacle of the drawing and defines the meetings purpose, to find that climactic change mechanism.

“Ever since then…” becomes the call-to-action and next steps for the team, which can be illustrated in various methods or preferences of the graphic recorder. These “Next Steps” is truly the change that needs to be provided and helps anchor the recording.

Don’t stop there, there is the moral that must be addressed, for the moral gives meaning and is the underlining driver for all the actions to be taken and how to avoid what no longer works. I believe this needs to be a highlighted area on the recording. It clearly illustrates the context of the visual conversation and helps focus the ideas moving forward.

So here is the recap as put to the Story Spine…

Before today, graphic recorders captured ideas and the conversations of groups while in the flow of the shared conversation, Each time, the graphic recording is created moving from left to right, top to bottom, text and images make reference points, add importance to ideas and link conversations along the way. Until one day, the idea of using a storyline framework was presented which would help guide the graphic recorder in staging the graphic recording and defining the relationship of sections on the page. Because of that the layout change and because of that the placement and connectors changed to help guide the viewer along the story of the challenge of the group, Because of that the graphic recorder was able to make the graphic recording a visual story of challenge, observation and direction. Because of that the participants could see the flow, sequence and conclusion until finally with this conclusion came their call to action for success.

The two morals of this story are that as Graphic Recorders, we have the opportunity to create masterful stories with each recording and produce guide maps to success. Second, never close your eyes to another industry’s tools as they may be opportunity to enhance yours.

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