Communication and Code; Two Threads of the Same Story

My coding experiences have always required perseverance. As both a kid and an adult I spent hour after hour on game design programs trying to make the on screen protagonist move as I wanted them to, events to happen when I wanted them to and dialogue appear as I wanted it to. I had hours and hours of eureka moments followed by frustration as another error inevitably occurred.

If any other task had provoked this frustration, I probably would have given up within the first 12 hours. So why didn’t I?

Coding can be like Writing a Story.

Una Code by Dino Latoga via Flickr

Well there has been some research into why it’s so important children learn coding – and it’s not just because computer science is a great sector for jobs. Quinn Burke and Yasmin B. Kafai from Pennsylvania did a study on the link between programming and storytelling.  In their study they framed coding as a method of storytelling for kids and taught them to make storyboards before beginning the coding part of the exercise.

They found that when the kids became exasperated by the coding process, encouragement to return to the storytelling part of the exercise (the storyboards) for inspiration was the best incentive for the kids to keep on debugging their codes and generated scripts. As they put it;

“returning to the original roadmap indicating where the story was supposed to go consistently was far greater an incentive for kids to keep debugging codes and generating scripts than simply having us technically pick apart where their scripts had run astray.”

Storytelling is a form of Compelling Communication.

Girl Talk by Texas.713 via Flickr

Let’s say on your way home you ran into an old friend who offered you a job in their business. When you get home, you’re probably not going to say, “I got a job offer” and end it with that. You’re probably going to say “Guess what just happened” before regaling your friends or family with the whole series of events that lead up to the job offer.

We are compelled by stories. We love reading them, love hearing them, love telling them.

With research showing that reading books aloud to kids teaches them language and comprehensive skills, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that as adults we use storytelling to comprehend events.

Finding Common Ground in Coding and Communication.

Our friends Quinn and Yasmin explained in their paper that Sequence, Structure and Clarity of Expression are three aspects characteristic of not only good storytelling and communication but also effective coding.

In order to code, write a story or make a speech you need to have a plan – even if that plan is a vague as “and then they will live happily ever after or something.” When you write a novel you then break that plan down into scenes and then flesh your ideas out until you’ve created a series of chapters. In coding you break down that plan into coding blocks that run events which make the backbone of the entire program. It’s the same when you’re making a speech.

So why didn’t I give up on my coding projects?

I wanted to tell my story. Coding became a puzzle, errors became challenges. Whether it was going to take me 1 try or 50, the innate desire to produce something that told a story in an interesting interactive way was what kept me on task. While I wouldn’t say I’ve ever produced something worthy of a place in the app store, my coding forays have definitely taught me skills that I still use in my everyday life, such as persistence, problem solving and, of course, storytelling.


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6 Responses to “Communication and Code; Two Threads of the Same Story”

  1. Olivia says:

    Yeah, great idea ipermatasar! I think that coding and storytelling have such a broad overlap that practising one is sure to help improve the other. I wish you luck in both your future coding and storytelling endeavours.

  2. Olivia says:

    Thanks Matt! I always find roadmaps and storyboards really helpful to keep me on track whenever I start a new project. I hope using a roadmap will help you in future too!

  3. Olivia says:

    Thank you Kaih! When I was a kid I also didn’t realise coding was a like storytelling – it’s only as an adult trying to get the next generation into learning coding did I release the connection.

  4. Kaih Mitchell says:

    I love the way you describe your experiences with coding as a kid, Olivia. I have had similar experiences but always struggled to express why I enjoyed coding so much to other people (like my mum). If I’d known that coding was like storytelling when I was a kid I would have had a good response when I was told off for “wasting time on the computer”

  5. Matt says:

    Awesome story Olivia, really cool idea to link coding with sound communication techniques. I really like your advice to return to my original roadmap when I’m trying to debug code too, so I guess I’ll actually have to start making roadmaps now…

  6. ipermatasar says:

    I agree with you “Coding can be like Writing a Story” and we can’t stop until the story finish or at least reach one full section. Since I do coding, I think I have more sense to connect things, to do everything in order, to be organised, and same as you, to derive solution for any given problem. So, thank you for sharing this topic, I should try to write a story some time, maybe coding helps me for that too.