Minimum Viable Story

One of the most prominent techniques in the software industry is the minimum viable product or MVP. It’s basically a strategy for avoiding the development of products that customers don’t want. This, in theory, is achieved by rapidly developing a minimum set of features that is enough to deploy the product and test key assumptions about customers’ interactions with the product. Ideally, this whole process is repeated until a state of product/market fit is achieved by addressing and solving a problem or an existing need.

As a software developer, this naturally leads me to ask the question of, “can this same technique be applied to storytelling?” That is, can we develop stories in the same iterative fashion as we are accustomed to doing with software products? Is the concept of a minimum viable story even applicable?

An Opinionated Architecture of Stories

To explore the viability of the concept of minimum viable story we first need to take a closer look at the inherent structure of stories. Just like software, stories are made up of several elements that are cohesively held together by means of an overarching structure: an architecture. Stories without this structure (or with a deficient structure) will be rejected by readers as nonsensical or even worse. Let’s take a look at how we can describe the architecture of stories illustrated by the following diagram.

An Opinionated Architecture of Stories
An Opinionated Architecture of Stories

In the above illustration, we can see that stories are made up of successive layers, each one supported by the layers below it (that is, presentation, plot development and structure, characterization, and setting and story universe, respectively). What’s more, these layers are all affected by several cross-cutting concerns (that is, point of view, dialogue, description, and style).

Each component in the story architecture is made up of several subparts each with its own set of dependencies and considerations. For example, plot development should consider the perceived need to resolve a conflict. That is, all stories center on conflict and effective plot development should include a story arc taking us from conflict to resolution.

With regards to characterization, it’s important to develop believable characters with whom we can identify (this is equally valid for even the villains in our stories). What’s more, the leading characters in our story should have a character arc. That is, they should transition from one (emotional) state at the beginning of the story, to another state at the end of the story. For example, from being insecure and anxious to being confident and content. Otherwise, what is the point? Without a meaningful character arc the story will be, in many respects, pointless.

Just like software, stories are made up of several elements that are cohesively held together by means of an overarching structure: an architecture.

In the matter of setting or worldbuilding, it is necessary to establish a coherent and consistent wider context with built-in wider cause and effect for your story. Ideally, the setting also impacts the character’s lives in surprising and interesting ways.

Finally, with regards to the presentation of a story it is important to consider the ever increasing spectrum of possibilities for your audience to interact with your story’s world and characters including stills, animations, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), all of which are spread across different media (including web and mobile platforms) by means of transmedia storytelling techniques.

Miami Office Building Animation

What’s Next?

Using the minimum viable story process to develop a story requires the inclusion of the required narrative elements in a structured manner; that is, within the context of an architecture. This needs to be done together with the accompanying feedback process with the intended audience of the story. The goal of the minimum viable story is the development of a story in an iterative manner to ensure its appeal (and to be able to do this repeatedly). And this is exactly what I am going to attempt with StoryTechnologies. Get in touch with your thoughts.

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