Digital storytelling

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Ditigal Storytelling refers to using a variety of media outlets and tools to create a visual for a real-life story.

A New Technology


Digital storytelling brings word-of-mouth to life by adding images, motion, and sound to an age-old practice. When done properly, a digital story can be a highly effective tool for informing, persuading, or otherwise creating an emotional appeal that inspires others to believe in your message or take some action. It can also be a powerful teaching method for creating a memorable educational experience in the classroom.

Digital story telling is still a relatively new concept amd its definition is relatively broad and has yet to be specifically determined.

Elements of Digital Storytelling


The Center for Digital Story Telling, a leader in the digital storytelling industry, has been offering workshops for digital storytelling for 11 years. The goal of the workshop is to get students to design and produce a 3-5 minute digital story by piecing together still images and music and drawing from their own personal experience. Thenmozhi Soundarajan participated in one of those workshops and designed a story titled Momnotmom in which she told a story about her mother's life and how she beleives it has evolved of the years. This is a good example of a digital story because it applies sound, motion, and imagery to a documentary to create an informative story and garner emotional appeal.

Digital Storytelling has several elements for creating an effective story. The University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication's Institute for New Media Students and the Media Center has compiled an extensive list of these elements as follows:



Media refers to the material(s) used to create the story package. The ability to use any type of media is unique to to digital story space. Configuration of the document, type of format, currentness of the delivery, and time/space issues in editing of the content are four issues to consider when looking as media.



Action is present in digital stories in two different ways: content action and user action. Content action can be static like newspaper stories, in which the content never moves. It can also be dynamic, or have motion that is a part of the design. A combination of both of these techniques is often used to create a digital story. An example of this is text linked to a motion graphic.

User action can be also be passive, active, or a combination of the two.

When content and user are static/active, a user's actions will generate additional static content. When content and user are dynamic/passive, the content requires no prompting from the user to initiate motion. Finally, when content and user are dynamic/active, user action leads to additional content action.



The relationship between the digital story and the user can be open or closed based on linearity, customization, calcuation, manipulation, or appendage.

Linearity refers to the order in which content can be accessed. When a story is nonlinear it is considered to be open because the user can decide in what order they wish to access the content. Linear content, on the other hand, has a fixed order that is set by the designer and cannot be changed by the user. This is considered closed.

Customization refers to the level at which the user can choose their own preferences. Content is considered open when it is customizable, and considered closed, or standard, when it cannot.

Calculation refers to the ability to tally. A story that is calculable is open and users are allowed to submit information that produces some result. Non-calculable stories are closed and have no such feature.

Manipulation refers to the amount of freedom a user has to play with the content.

Manipulable , or open, content allows the user to arrange the content themselves, while set (closed) content is arranged by the designer.

Appendage refers to the ability of the user to add additional content.

Appendable stories are considered open because they allow users to add content while finite stories are closed because they do not allow such actions.



Permance addresses the amount of time content alterations can be viewed. Temporary altheration only last as long as the user is accessing the story, while permanent alteration can be viewed as many times as the user wishes.



When changes to content are only viewable to the user, that content is considered individual. Some content can be altered and the user can choose a select group of people to view those alterations. Some content changes can be universally viewed by anyone who wishes to see it.



Context is the information that appears as part of story and gives it meaning. Digital story telling allows for unlimited context by linking, or appending, additional information. The technique, purpose, source, and content must be considered when linking stories.



Communication that has multiple ways of conveying information makes digital storytelling unique from other methods of conveying information. Two-way communication allows the user to interact with the designer or other users, while one-way communication lacks this type of communication. In in a two-way configuration , commuincation can be one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, or many-to-many. Types of communication include chats, forums, e-mail, or short message service. Stories can be either live or recorded, moderated or unmoderated, and it can be muli-faceted.

How to produce a good digital story


It is important to design a digital story that is both interesting and memorable to your audience. J.D. Lasica, executive director of Ourmedia and the author of Darknet, has compiled a list of steps for writing a good digital story as follows:

Step 1: Decide on the Story You Want to Tell You probably already have a person or subject in mind. Think small. Focus. Don't get caught up trying to convey all the aspects of someone's life - you're not writing the great American novel, you're creating what will optimally be a three- to five-minute work that recounts a personal tale and reveals a small truth.

For ideas about what form your story should take, consider these options:

  • The story about someone important.
  • The story about an event in your life.
  • Travel stories - stories about a personal journey or passage - can be effective if they result in the narrator being transformed by the experience in some way.
  • Accomplishment stories
  • The story about a place in your life. Our sense of place serves as the focal point of a great many profound stories.
  • The story about what I do.
  • Recovery stories.
  • Love stories. We all want to know how someone proposed, met a spouse, experienced the birth of a first child, or came to terms with a parent. Exploring these kinds of relationships helps affirm our own.
  • Discovery stories. These stories probe how we uncovered a truth or learned how to do something.

Step 2: Gather Your Materials Start collecting memories. The most powerful images are often discovered during a treasure hunt in the family attic. Start gathering old photos, vintage film reels, digital video, flyers, mementos - anything that holds emotional resonance. Don't think you have to go out and visually capture a story with a camcorder or camera. Use what you have! Older "found materials" usually prove to pack more of an emotional wallop than new footage.

Step 3: Begin Writing Your Script Next, start jotting down ideas. Discuss your ideas with family and friends. Play out a rough story in your head.

Sketch out a script that you'll soon record with your own voice. Resist the temptation to take the easy way out and create a story with only images and music. People want to hear a personal voice. Don't be self-conscious about how your voice sounds; we all think we sound odd on tape.

Draft a short script. That's where many people get bogged down. Get past the fear of committing words to paper. Some tips:

  • Get personal.
  • Write lousy first drafts. Get the main elements of your story down on paper, then go back and edit later.
  • Write short. You'll be surprised at how much you can convey with a few words and some key images.
  • Read your script aloud as you're fine-tuning it.
  • Use plain speech.
  • Don't hold back. Be real. You need to reach an emotional depth.
  • Look for a narrative arc for your story. All stories - even three-minute gems - have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Work on the pace. The rhythm and tempo of a story is what sustains an audience's interest.
  • Read your script to a friend when you think you've finished. They may often notice ideas that you failed to mention.

Step 4: Prep Your Equipment You'll need to purchase or borrow these pieces of equipment:

  • A desktop computer or laptop
  • Video software such as Apple iMovie, Adobe Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or another software application designed to tell stories. Free and open-source software (FOSS) for this that is also cross platform includes Avidemux for video editing, Blender Video Sequence Editor (VSE) that supports animation using 3-dimensional models, and FFmpeg, which is command line. The command line option is mentioned, because it is one of the easiest ways of producing content in the WebM free license format preferred by Wikimedia Commons.
  • A (desktop) scanner, if you want to include traditional photos in your story
  • Additionally, if you plan to record interviews, you'll need:
    • A recording device
    • A handheld microphone for audio interviews
    • Headphones

Sometimes you may want to conduct an interview with someone, most likely the subject of your story or her friends or relatives. Or, you may want someone to videotape or interview you. Either way, make sure you practice using your equipment before you sit down for the interview. Begin with some idde conversation. A minute or so after you begin, you may want to stop, rewind, and listen to the recording to make sure everything is working properly.

People like to see faces and hear voices. If you have enough photos of the story subject, snippets of an audio interview with the person can often add an interesting counterpoint to your voice-over narrative. Try to find a quiet location, or one that's appropriate to the subject. If you're recording video, make sure the lighting is bright enough to see the subject, but not so bright that he or she is washed out, as in direct sunlight.

In some cases, people find that talking into an audio recording device makes them self-conscious. Sometimes a friend can assist by interviewing you about the subject or person your story is about. Try using a digital recorder so that no conversion from analog tape to digital is required.

If you're interviewing another person, it's best to wear headphones while recording. Your headphones will tell you exactly what you'll hear in the finished recording. Adjust the microphone position for the optimum sound. The best setup typically involves moving the microphone between the questioner and storyteller. Hold it about seven inches from the speaker's mouth, and use a light touch to avoid the rumbling of mike-handling noise.

Feel free to ask questions spontaneously or to read from a prepared set of questions. Take breaks as needed. Use visual cues like nodding your head. Make sure the storyteller's gaze isn't wandering off into a hundred directions.

Step 5: Create a Storyboard A storyboard is simply a place to plan out a visual story on two levels: 1) Time - what happens in what order? and 2) Interaction - how does the voiceover and music work with the images or video?

Use index cards to layout your storyboard. Lay the visual elements that you plan to use on your desk or kitchen table. Jot down the main words that you'll be reading aloud as the image appears in the story on an index card and place it next to the element.

A good rule of thumb is to use no more than 15 images and no more than two minutes of video. As a general rule, four to six seconds is the ideal time for an image to appear on-screen, though feel free to linger longer on a few key images. A handful of good images makes a more powerful story than a scattershot of random photos that fail to connect to the narration. If you get stalled writing your script, try jotting down thoughts on an index card next to an image and let the cards serve as your script. Just write one true thing, and the rest of the words will flow.

Step 6: Digitize Your Media
You can begin this process earlier, but be aware that the production work involved in creating a short personal story can take many, many hours. Set aside enough time to do it right.

If you're using old photos, you'll need a flatbed scanner. Scan them and save them to a single folder on your computer. If you're using digital photos, make sure they're in JPEG format.

Keep in mind that your video will be horizontal in form, so crop accordingly. Don't distort vertical photos into horizontal ones, but realize that strong vertical shapes will appear with lots of black on both sides. Don't reduce the size of the image to the size your movie will appear; keep them in aspect ratio. Modern computer programs will automatically do this for you.

Step 7: Record a Voice-Over
You may decide that the microphone built into your laptop or desktop computer will suffice for recording your narration. If you want a more polished production, the Center for Digital Storytelling recommends devices such as a 4-channel mixer, a condenser microphone (Shure, AKG), an aspiration guard - a light covering over the microphone to prevent letters like p's from popping (optional, and stereo-phono to stereo-mini cable. The Center for Digital Storytelling recommends that you record your voice-over at the same quality level that you record your musical soundtrack: 16-bit, 44 kHz.

Many software programs are available to capture audio from an external sound source like a microphone. On a PC, these include the built-in Sound Recorder software, audio shareware, and several professional-level audio- and video-production software packages. The free, open-source program Audacity can capture sound from either a computer's built-in mike or an external microphone.

Above all, speak slowly in a conversational voice. Don't make it sound like you're reading from a script.

Step 8: Add Music
Choose music that evokes the rhythm and pace of your story. For many people, this is the easiest part of the process. Most of us have soundtracks running in our heads that reflect the mood of the story we want to convey. The most effective tracks are often instrumental: classical, ambient, folk or jazz, with no vocals.

Consider Copyright If you plan on publishing your work to the Web, you're likely violating copyright laws if you use an entire song as the soundtrack to your video. (See Ourmedia's fair use guidelines.) It's much smarter to use podsafe music (and, no, the fact that you're not making money from your story makes no difference under copyright laws). The same rules apply when appropriating copyrighted snippets of television shows or old movies. Use Google to help you find podsafe video and audio.

Finding a talented friend to play an original work on the piano or by strumming the guitar also solves this problem.

Step 9: Edit Your Story
Make sure you have all the elements of your story in your video-editing program. If you haven't done so already, import all images, video, your voice-over, and musical elements.

Next, bring the images or videos down into the timeline to match the layout of your storyboard.

It's time to create an initial rough cut before adding transitions or special effects. The draft version gives you an overview of your project and spotlights areas where images or video are insufficient to carry the story.

Next, add titles to the beginning and end of your story. You may also want to overlay text onto an image or video. Avoid the urge to get too jazzy with typefaces or colors: Use a straightforward typeface that's easy to read.

Now comes the hard part: adding transitions - a simple cross-dissolve generally works best - and altering the length of each visual element to make sure it corresponds properly with the voice-over. Often, storytellers find that the "Ken Burns effect" on a Mac is a good way to add visual interest to an image, panning across and zooming into a photo to highlight an expression or important element.

The music is the last element to add (you may want to mute it until you're ready to tackle the soundtrack, usually by unchecking a small box in the timeline next to the music clip). When you're ready to add music, iMovie's controls easily let you adjust the volume to reduce the music volume during the voiceover. It's generally best to fade the music to a low level but not to drop it out completely for the sake of continuity.

Expect to spend a few hours editing your story to get it just right. Don't overproduce: often the spontaneity and directness of the initial drafts get lost with too much polishing.

Step 10: Share Your Story
Almost finished! Now you need to produce your video in its final form. In iMovie, you can burn a DVD by launching iDVD. If you want to publish your story to the Web, choose Export>Expert Settings, click the Share button, and choose Export: Movie to MPEG-4. You can also export your file as an H.264 video for the iPod or as a QuickTime movie. I recommend MPEG-4 at a high bitrate of 500 or 600. Or, you can produce it as an H.264 video (the compression is stunning) and simply switch the format suffix from Apple's quirky .m4v to .mp4. If you want to publish your video on Wikimedia Commons, it will need to be in a free license format, preferably WebM. This can be accomplished by using, e.g., the Free and open-source software (FOSS) FFmpeg. FFmpeg is command line, which makes it impractical for many many edit tasks for many people. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to use to convert from, e.g., mp4 to WebM format.

You can also create an online video with QuickTime Pro (which will run you about $30) by choosing File>Export and follow the same steps as above. If you choose File>Share, QuickTime will compress your video as an email attachment. If you created your digital story in Premiere or another program, follow its instructions to export to the Web.

When you've finished compressing the final file, publish it to your blog or to a destination site such as Ourmedia. If you want to share it with just a few friends or family members, share it with SpinXpress, a private, secure peer-to-peer network. Or learn how to promote your videos to a wider audience by reading TechSoup's article Share Your Nonprofit's Videos with the World.

Digital Storytelling in Advertising


Due to the fragmentation of products and audiences across hundreds of television stations and thousands of magazines, companies are being forced to move away from traditional mass marketing and toward one-to-one marketing to avoid getting lost in the clutter. Therefore, digital storytelling is beginning to find its niche in marketing and advertising. Companies are increasingly using this type of media to engage their consumers in interactive online advertisements to build brand awareness.

Further Research


1. How has digital storytelling impacted the learning environment?
2. How are educators using digital storytelling to enhance learning in the classroom?
3. How do I use programs such as iMovie to create a digital story?

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