How do grouping storylines work?

Inductive storylines form a structured conversation

The key to understanding how a grouping, or inductive, storyline works is to understand the notion of ‘structured conversation'.

Most people like to receive information in person through conversation. These conversations tend to be quite organic, and provide opportunities for all parties to listen and to ask questions.

However, when communicating remotely – via writing or presenting to larger groups of people – these conversations are by necessity structured.

In this circumstance it is important for the writer to think through the questions that the audience might have and organise them into a sensible order so that they can present their ideas in a way that is easy for their audience to grasp.

Organising your ideas this way involves creating a logical question and answer flow within the document. Each idea should provoke a question – just one – in the readers' mind that is then answered at the next level down in the story.

For example, if the overarching answer for your storyline were to say “You should go for a holiday in Greece”, the audience would first ask either “why?” or “how?”.

If they were to ask “how do we go to Greece?”, you would provide a series of steps or actions that they could take such as: “Work out how much you want to spend, talk to our travel agent, and agree an itinerary”. Then each one of these points may provoke another (sub) question that you would respond to until you go far enough down your storyline that you have run out of relevant things to say.

If, however, they were to ask “why?”, you would provide a series of reasons such as: The scenery is beautiful, there are lots of fun things to do and it is surprisingly affordable. Again, you would keep unpacking the ideas one question, one answer at a time until you run out of relevant things to say.

The test for whether you have structured your conversation accurately is to identify whether the series of ideas that respond to each question are all the same kind of thing – eg in the Greek story they would be either actions or reasons. If the ideas within a grouping (ie the ideas that all share the same parent idea) are not the same kind of thing, then they do not truly respond to just one question.