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three-scene storyboarding - to live and learn and live

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
9 April 2012

Bill Law
The Career-learning Café

Three-scene storyboarding is a narrative method for enabling learning for living.  It is true that a good many people see learning as a route to looking good in competition, but storyboarding gives more time to the exploratory journey that brings deeper meaning and wider purpose to narrow competitiveness.  It is designed to be useful to schools, colleges and community-based agencies eager to grasp opportunities for expanding their learning programmes.

It calls on people’s memories of the experiences which might influence their plans - including career plans.  It invites them into a process of reflection on those experiences, and sets up a framework for working on useful and sustainable action. 

There is a distinctive set of assumptions: experience is at least as persuasive as expertise, a biography is more than a chronicle, a case study is not a narrative, meaning is different from facts and factors.  With these ideas three-scene storyboarding sets out to enlarge helping repertoires - and the range of helpers in a position  to engage with them.


It is based on a scene-by-scene filmic format.

That means that people can work...

>      using a combination of words and images
>      seeing one’s self both as individual and with others
>      interweaving thoughts and feelings
>      inviting a person to be a witness to his or her own life
>      planning what to do

All of this is attributing meaning to experience, and drawing on that meaning to find purpose in action.  It is not dealing with same-for-everybody truths, it is a way-of-seeing personal meaning.  It cannot replace fact-and-factor diagnosis and information, but it can usefully supplement them.  A starting-point conversation might open up along the lines...

I doubt that I need tests or data-bases...
show me what will help me sort things out in my own terms?

The free-to-download format is one-page, simple and portable.  It sets out an episode in three scenes:

1.    ‘opening scene’: the way things were
2.    ‘big scene’: when things might be changed
3.    ‘following scene’: whether and how things became different

The episode is a turning-point - a time which is especially on a person’s mind, causing some thinking again... 

something's nagging me...
...should do something about it?

The big scene shows that ‘something’.  The opening and following scenes are the  before-and-after comparisons - setting out contrasts in how the person went into this episode and how that person came out it. 

That three-scene format can open up possibilities for a change-of-direction in life.  The opening scene need not predict the following scene.  That realisation is a requirement for the kind of ready-for-anything flexibility that contemporary life now entails.  It is also an educator’s best hope of enabling social mobility.  If storyboarding can support developments like these it will prove to be a significant expansion of life-relevant learning.


A turning-point experience can be something that happens around the person, or something the person makes happen - expressed by passive or active verbs.  It might entail luck, surprise, loss, gain, or encounter.  Only narrative can tell of such things.  The telling of them could cover remembered seconds, minutes or hours.

The setting might be at home, on the street, or in the neighbourhood.  It can be while watching tv, on-line, reading or in conversation.  It can also be away somewhere - maybe on a course or an experience-of-work visit. 

It carries the possibility of a change in how a person sees things - a newly found point-of-view, perhaps widening horizons.  It may well conjure feelings of hope or anxiety. 

When this is set down in three scenes  it  can provoke curiosity - a  wondering...

 why did I...?
why didnt I...?
suppose I were to...?

Trialing suggest it works well when people physically draw the scenes and write in the thought and speech bubbles.  Le Corbusier makes the point...

I prefer drawing to talking - drawing is faster - and allows less room for lies 

But cutting-and-pasting images, with speech and thought bubbles overlaid, also works.

If people will let a helper see what they set down they are inviting that helper into a conversation that they have set up.   Even if a person has not changed course, that conversation is still about a turning-point - though, now, for a direction not taken.  That may be fine, yet it is still worth talking about.  When it comes to attributing meaning to experience nothing is certain...

are things not working out as I thought they might?
do I have to leave them the way they were?
'what about taking another look?

Storyboarding brings that possibility of change-of-mind to the centre of the story.  Such reflectiveness is necessary to any idea of flexibility - in work or in any other area of life.


The process is developed from the format.  Each of the three scenes is created in a three-phase process of 'remembering', 'showing' and 'futuring'...

>      remembering: gathers memories and sorts them into what makes this a turning-point, and - then - what belongs to the opening and following scenes
>      showing: focuses what is significant in the story and graphically designs how each of these features belongs to the three scenes
>      futuring: sets out what a person can do about it - where that will be, who will be there, and what task is to be taken on

It can be a take-away process - maybe something to check out with others, and bring back for more to-and-fro questioning, reflection and re-drafting.

A helper’s open questions enable the process.  The conversation works well when there is more than one way of seeing things...

so what else could be going on here?
should I take another look?

Storyboarding is an invitation to look around and ask what that ‘what else?’ might be.  And a useful story has a lot of places to look...

>      people: protagonist, antagonists, groups, relationships, encounters
>      places: familiar, unfamiliar, feeling ‘at home’, feeling ‘at odds’
>      talk: soliloquy, conversation, thoughts-and-feelings, agreement, conflict
>      events: routine, continuation, luck, loss, gain, surprise, 'eye-openers'
>      meanings:  worth doing, worth having, worth listening to

Looking around like this means not settling for what first occurs... 

wait a bit...
why did I ask that in the first place?
did I expect a different answer?
is that whats getting me stuck?

Daniel Dennett (2003) argues for the kind of complexity that can find other ways-of-seeing.  His modelling shows that we increase our repertoire by evolving more ways of dealing with what’s going on.  The more ways we have of visualising experience, then the more ways we have of making sense of it - and figuring out what to do about it. 

So complexity is not necessarily a problem, it can be the beginning of a solution.  It crops up in what  Porter Abbott (2002) calls a rounded story.  While a flat story just carries people along, a rounded story draws them in.  There’s enough in the story to wonder what is really going on, and what else might be done about it.  And that means that there is more than one way of sorting things out.  It offers more levels of engagement with the narrative - always taking one thing with another.


It also sets up a different dynamics.  In storyboarding the format is the structure, but the dynamic is an ‘arc’ - the movement from where things got started to where they wind up.  In storyboarding the arc is in the sequence of opening scene, big scene, following scene.  Dynamics show how the features of the story bump into each other.  The more bumping, the more complexity, the more possibilities, the more dynamics...

>      sequencing: one thing leading to another, explaining things, anticipating things
>      points-of-view: other people having their say, forming habits-of-mind, disagreeing, favouring certain directions
>      turning-points: re-patterning how things are seen, letting go of habits, suggesting new possibilities, finding new purposes
>      change-of-mind: holding on to some things, letting go of others, feeling some anxiety, maybe mixed with hope

A dynamic story invites you to look under the surface of things.  It has its own kind of ‘what-happens-now’ edginess, and ‘why did she do that’ puzzlement, and ‘anything-could-happen’ meaning.  But flat stories whizz along at such a rate that people cannot see, or care, about...

why did he...?
yet didnt she say...?
and if that happened surely he...?
but shouldnt she have told him that...?
and wouldnt that mean he cant...?
or else...?
so what if....?

You can find more answers to such questions in a rounded story.  Nothing is inevitable - Daniel Dennett calls it 'evitability'.  This is not fact-and-factor. knowing, it’s why-bother meaning.


Perhaps the most useful feature of a cinematic format is that a movie can be re-screened.  And some movies are well worth seeing more than once.  It often feels quite different the second time round.  And different again the third.  A storyboard allows a person to do that - because the person is not just a protagonist in the story, he or she can be an audience.  Maybe again and again.  This is becoming a witness to one’s own life.

okay, thats how I saw it then...
but now I look again...
its like the first time Ive really seen it...

It seems that constructive motivation is more likely to be stoked where people can take that ‘onlooker’ perspective  (Noelia Vasquez and Rolf Buehler, 2007). 

The filmic format expands the prevalent concept of ‘self’ - there is an ‘I’ and there is also a ’me’.  And three-scene storyboarding engages a person as both the subjective 'I am', and as the predicated 'is that really me?'. 

Engaging these complex, dynamic and predicated features of narrative supports what Jen Lexmond and Richard Reeves (2009) see as mindfulness.  It is stop-and-look attention which resists distraction, focusses concentration and sees things to completion.  This is as much a personal attitude as an intellectual skill - engaging both thought and feeling.  Such application of self is increasingly understood to be a condition for effective planning. 


Storyboarding is not the only use of narrative in careers work.  Constructivism calls on narrated experience.  Alongside constructivism, storyboarding is less about expertise-based diagnosis, and more about experience-based conversation.  It  adds to the repertoire by modelling a process of questioning...

am I taking on board other points-of-view?
am I taking one thing with another?
am I taking nothing for granted?

The professional aim is to enable people to get into the habit of asking their own questions. 

It works with expert diagnostics - the helpers who engage can usefully be trained in psychology which understands personality.   But this work also needs help from sociology which understands alliances, history which understands sequence, geography which understands location, literature which understands conversation, drama which understands narrative, design-technology which understands creativity, and mentoring which understands the locality.

None of this means that storyboarding cannot help a person make a competitive pitch for selection.  This kind of help may well be among a person’s best hope of surprising selectors with something distinctive and compelling. 

But, most of all, it works with students and clients by handing to them a format and process to take away for their own use - not just today and tomorrow, but life-long and life-wide.


                   see an account of storyboarding in education research



Porter Abbott (2002).  Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Daniel Dennett (2003).  Freedom Evolves.  London: Allen Lane

Jen Lexmond, and Richard Reeves (2009).  Building Character - Parents are the Principal Architects of a Fairer Society.  London: Demos

Noelia Vasquez and Rolf Buehler, R. (2007)  ‘Seeing future success - does imagery perspective influence achievement motivation?’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33 (10)




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