Pounded Out And Pounded Flat Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-04-04 14:00:00 No comments

Why I Don't Like the User Story Template | The Agile Management Blog

... where they excel is making sure every story is expressed in the format As a ____ I can____So That____.  No matter what the story is, they find a way to shoe horn it into that template.  And this is where things start to fall apart.  The need to fit the story into the template becomes more important than the content of the actual story.

The term "story" here is being used in the context of Agile management, where a user's needs with a particular (software) product are expressed in the form of a narrative so that a dev team can work with it more coherently.

I knew this walking in when I read this post, but at the same time, I couldn't help but think about the term "story" in its most conventional context. Isn't this what we've also managed to do with storytelling in the most general sense, turn it into a formula where the mere fact of the filling in of the blanks trumps everything else?

Readers of this blog know I make this complaint often: it's my main culprit for why so much of everything we read and watch all feels like it comes out of the same factory staffed by the same workers pushing the same buttons. But at the same time, I know that we call something a story because it has certain recognizable elements, and there's no point in junking the things that make a story a story just because I'm sour about the way the recognition of such things is being abused.

I used to be a bit more of an advocate for the "un-story" because of this, but I've come to see such radicalism doesn't really work. We recognize that stories exist for a good reason — they satisfy something in us (well, most of us) that is deeply primal, and they refresh the parts that other things don't reach, as an old beer commercial once had it. The conventional mechanisms of a story exist to make the job of providing that satisfaction all the easier.

So what was I really rebelling against? Not stories, per se, but the complacency that comes with any kind of structure. There is at least one SF&F author I have mentioned in the past whose attitude towards writing is, essentially, be a bricklayer. Don't do anything "arty", don't do anything that'll scare off the readers — all of which is advice meant in good faith, I'm sure, but I never felt the point of teaching writing was to teach people to be better bricklayers. His attitude was, if you want to make a living doing this, you have to give people what they want. My response was, maybe more people should keep their day jobs and not tie their fortunes to catering to the least common denominator.

We should be doing this stuff because we love it, but we also shouldn't be doing it out of spite for the success for others. Nothing says those two impulses can't be reconciled.

It's not the template I hate. It's the idea that a story ends there, rather than starts there.

Tags: story ingredients storytelling writers writing