circular storytelling

Drawing up Circular Storytelling Philosophy – part of Frits Ahlefeldt philosophy writings

Circular Storytelling  – Starting with the story to understand things like circular economy, recycling and sustainability better

Thoughts, text and drawings by Frits Ahlefeldt

For the last weeks I have experimented sketching up circular stories around rice paper lamps to explore new ( at least to me ) ways of telling stories, using a simple 360 degrees paper instead of the logic of a flat one, to draw up and tell tiny narratives in different ways, here are eight examples of my new drawn circular storytelling and some thoughts

Circular storytelling – ancient and new

Circular storytelling is not exactly a new thing. Some of the most used storytelling models today are circular in their models – ex. The  Hero’s Journey  ( Wikipedia) . And many of the world’s top storytelling experts use circular models to explain key concepts in storytelling, myths and the narratives we live ( Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and others )

Our stories almost always starts with the hero venturing out, into the unknown future, and ends with the return to the known in what is often modeled on a circle, with the circle of life as one of the most known examples:

linear vs circular stories

When we buy industrial products our storytelling has, at least since the beginning of the industrial time, been different. We buy a washing-machine or a car from new, use it and throw it out when it is worn out. Mechanical things and stories tends only to move in one linear direction. A classic example of a linear story is the fish eats fish eats fish story, it was one of the first I painted and around a circle it describes a different reality, both linear and circular

Moving from zero to hundred

We are often told the story of how fast a car will move from zero to hundred, but almost never how it will get back to zero. It is the storytelling of a proud guy standing tapping his Porsche saying “My car can go from zero to hundred in five second flat!” – Try ask him: “Ok, and then what?” – he will get confused… “then what, what? ”

Linear storytelling ends at hundred, circular storytelling is different – it never ends. A Tree grows, blossom, decay, die, becomes soil and new trees grow up. Life becomes the base of new life in a never ending circle.

In modern life our stories is often only about how someone went from zero to hundred, the rags to riches story about how to become successful, get lots of likes, it is about acceleration and expansion. I sketched up the Egg timer run sphere to describe the race for yet new results, meeting new deadlines and running faster and faster, around and around.

The circle in nature

Migrating birds, butterflies, mammals and fish often follows the same routes year after year, between where they spend their summers and their winters. Turtles return to the same old beaches to start out the next generation. And also most nomadic tribes follows the same well-known paths from place to place through-out the year in a circular movement. Many of their myths, rituals and stories might be seen as following a similar circular pattern. The archetype of most of our storytelling follows a similar circular logic through space and time.

On a few of my sphere paintings I sketched up the movement of species and characters around a sphere. Here is one with birds:

Classic linear stories inside and outside worlds

Walking the story-line

Most books, films, podcasts, cartoons, plays and presentations are linear in structure. There is a clear beginning and a clear end. Stages in the narrative can be described as a path or story line that meanders through, and up and down in the landscape from start to finish.

Inside worlds of feelings and perception

But there is more dimensions than the linear, to how we experience our movement along the bends and twists of the story line. We feel and react emotionally inside our individual cocoons, along the way

The chicken regrets drawing is about how a chicken might feel looking out from its sphere egg comfort zone. Here I try to focus on the individual spheres of consciousness we all seems to look and experience reality from.

Outside worlds of feed back and social response 

Another part of moving along story-lines is the response and feedback our stories get. We all have a social reality around us, an audience that both experience the stories we tell, in words, but also with our actions, footsteps, creations, our looks and our attitudes.

Happy faces all around is an experiment to sketch up the landscape of the responding social reality that surrounds us all – Maybe not always as cheerful as this one:

Cycles of change and fluctuations

Reality not only progress, it also change, often in fluctuations. Between good and bad times, day and night, winter and summer… Some times it is high tide, other times low tide. This aspect of reality is a natural part of circular storytelling and can be harder to explain in less circular forms of storytelling.

The tidal water, no man is an island at low tide, story is about how nature often follows a rhythm that can change our reality from isolated to connected and back.

Stories, conflicts and solutions

Storytelling is often about a conflict and how it was dealt with.  A gap that have to be bridged to get to the other side. Solving the conflict is often seen as a way to cross the gap. In a linear story there is a before and after the conflict is solved. In circular storytelling I realized I had different options to solve a conflict. I could draw up solutions that are different from bridging over – I could sketch up solutions based on the different logic of 360 degrees.

The Gap, sometimes you need a different perspective is about how some challenges can be solved by simply walking away from the gap:

Classic circular stories – walking, architecture, islands and sculpture

At the end of the day we often leave through the same door as we entered in the morning, finishing the story of the day. Most of us wake up in the same bed every morning, starting the story of yet another cycle, another day. It is a bit like when walking around an island you end up where you started, no matter if it rains or the sun shines.

Same thing turning a cup with fine inscriptions or watching a glass or sculpture slowly turning around. It is classic circular understanding where the end is the beginning.

Circular storytelling is all around us and as the benefits of thinking in terms of circularity in economy, in recycling, in life cycles and 360 degrees views in many other fields becomes more and more accepted, it might also be natural to see if the way we tell stories can be changed to be more circular in their structure.

My thought is that maybe, if we move away from mostly telling linear stories about how we and the products we produce becomes ever more successful, popular and expands. Then instead we can focus more on circular storytelling, telling stories about life cycles, about circular economy, balance, fluctuation, feed-back systems and circular networks.

Stories that see the end as the beginning of something new, stories that could create a very different and better understanding and logic for how to create a more sustainable future on the surface of the sphere we all move around on.