According to the Center for Digital Storytelling, a digital story is a short, first-person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds. Joe Lambert, one of the pioneers of this project-based multimedia activity, describes digital storytelling as a process that infuses new media and technology tools with a compelling written narrative. Jason Ohler (2008), an advocate of multimedia pedagogy in the classroom, indicates that digital storytelling is the ideal vehicle for blending traditional (reading, writing and speaking) and emerging (information technology) literacy development. In order to understand the composition of, and ultimately produce, a digital story, Lambert (2003) provides a conceptual framework of seven elements that serve as a guide throughout the writing, production, and publishing process.
These elements are: point of view, a dramatic question, emotional content, the gift of your voice, economy, pacing and the power of a soundtrack. Each element, as interpreted by Kenneth Warren, is described hereafter:
Point of view
The point of view element focuses on both the story’s purpose and perspective of the author. The purpose of a story or narrative can be to inform the listener about an experience or an idea, and, depending on how its communicated, persuade them to change, engage them to discuss and inspire them to act. These stories can be told in the first-person (personal and reflective), where the digital storyteller is speaking from first-hand experience; or they could be in the third-person (historical and analytical), where the digital storyteller describes someone else’s life or presents information about an interesting topic.
A dramatic question
The dramatic question is the key theme that holds the listener’s attention. Often times, digital stories are most powerful when the problem, conflict or dilemma is introduced at the beginning of the narrative. This can instantly capture the listener’s attention. Once captured, the digital storyteller should provide enough detail that describes the context and evidence that pertain to this inquiry. Here’s an example of a digital story with a strong dramatic question that asks, “How does one communicate in a foreign land when they feel as if they being perceived as an “other”?” . When honing in on a question, storytellers should think about any ethical, moral, legal, cultural, historical or controversial issues that connect to the story. This is usually where drama exists. Ultimately, the digital storyteller has to resolve this question and “sort out this drama” by the end of the story or provide enough information to the listener so they can resolve it themselves.
Each story or narrative should seek to include an aspect of emotional content that connects to its listeners’ feelings and evokes a response, whether visceral or subliminal. Written narratives can convey emotions of humor, empathy, fear, anxiety, solitude, amongst many others. Addressing the emotional content of a story can be challenging because it requires storytellers to deeply consider the perspectives of their listeners, as well as think about how the story may be interpreted through the use of rhetoric, images and vocal tone. For instance, if you’re trying to convey humor, think about the use of language, timing and visuals that make people laugh. Also, think about the pace and rhythm of your music if this is to enhance the listener’s response. Certain emotions, like humor, can be a difficult communicate because what may be funny to one person may be offensive to someone else. It’s always a great idea to get constant feedback about your story during each step of the production process!
The gift of your voice
The storyteller’s voice is a gift that must not be taken for granted, but rather recognized and nurtured as it is the vehicle that delivers the story’s message… and makes an impact! The voice carries varying degrees of richness, context, character, and personality that strengthen the narrative. Distractions such as background noise, vibrating cell phones, the sound of turning pages, repeating statements, mumbling and a low volume of voice will affect the impact of the story – no matter how well it is written. If a storyteller has a noticeable accent or pronounces certain words in a unique way, this could affect how the listener perceives the story. However, remember that the storyteller’s voice is a gift and it takes lots of practice (and patience) to master the art of oral communication. Be sure to read your story multiple times so that when you record your audio, you will know what words, statements, and style to expect. Knowing your story will help you to deliver clear and compelling multimedia presentation.
A good length for your written narrative is about two double spaced pages – approximately 500 words. This will result in a three minute digital story. If the digital story is longer than three minutes, the storyteller takes the risk of losing their listener’s attention. Think about the most important elements that belong in your story, you may need to edit, revise, and, quite possibly, re-record. If you still have a lot of information that must be conveyed, consider making more than one digital story. For instance, if you are producing a digital story about stem cell research for a science course, you might create one DST that analyzes the research, and another, more subjective DST, that reflects the storyteller’s personal opinions about the consequences, effects or impacts of the research.
Pacing is connected to the gift of your voice and sequence of images. A digital storyteller’s voice should be clear, inflect emotion, a have proper cadence. To achieve this, the entire narrative must be recorded in one take, from the first word to the last word. No interruptions or digital edits. Storytellers should pause for each comma, semi-colon and period that they see, while seeking adequate breath control when recording into the microphone. A vocal change should also be heard when communicating inquiry with a question mark (?) or projecting excitement with an exclamation mark (!). Additionally, storytellers should consider their use of images and how they transition from one to another. A three-minute story may use 15 or more images and storytellers will need to decide how long images appear on the screen. However, images may also be shown more than once and the longer an image remains on the screen, the more time a listener has to process what they are both seeing and hearing.
The power of a soundtrack
A digital story’s soundtrack can include music or other sound effects that help amplify the emotional content of the story’s theme and dramatic question. However, this element should be approached cautiously as music (especially music with audible lyrics) will add an additional layer of information to the digital story. This could be distracting as it may compete with the existing audio of the storyteller’s voice. Moreover, issues concerning music availability, copyright and attribution can determine whether or not its appropriate to include a soundtrack. It is advised that storytellers especially those with limited experience, ensure that the “Gift of Your Voice” audio is flawless before proceeding to utilize the power of a soundtrack.
You can also learn more about digital storytelling and how these 7 elements are now evolving into what is known as the “7 steps”. Take a look at Joe Lambert’s new book here: Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community”