Developing Story Ideas

What are some story ideas you’d like to share?

•What is the story about?           

•What is it really about?

•What emotions are conveyed?

•How are they expressed?

•What perspective makes it YOUR story?

•What visuals and sounds to enhance story?

•What are the moments of CHANGE?

•What happened BEFORE & AFTER the change?

•What do you see?

•What do you hear? 

•What is being said?

•What are your thoughts?

•What are your you feelings?

•How did the experience turn out?

Excerpt from “Digital Storytelling Cookbook” by Joe Lambert


Why are Life Stories Important?

Excerpt from

Why are life stories important? Talking about our lives is how we learn more about ourselves, others, the world, and life.

Doing a life interview is a chance to travel through time. In the present moment, the best gift you can give someone is to listen to them. You’ll find out about the past as you hear about real-life experiences. And along the way, you may discover some timeless insights to help guide you through your own future.

We live our lives forward, but we understand them backward. In looking back, we can identify turning points or dynamic events. We can clarify and organize our thinking about life, make sense of events, and enrich the meaning of our life story.

If we make meaning as young adults by fashioning dreams, as older adults we make it by shaping memories. We see how the story of our life has turned out – then change what we can for the future and accept the rest.

Informal (simply reminiscing) or formal (an interview) offers a number of benefits for both young and old:

  • It creates a sense of continuity, linking past, present and future.
  • It enables people to find out interesting things about their family or community, as well as the broader historical past.
  • It’s a way to pass on family stories and traditions, and preserve family history and cultural heritage.
  • It builds self-esteem in those doing the telling and those doing the listening.
  • It helps people develop research, interviewing, & listening skills.
  • It gives people an opportunity to reflect on and assess their life achievements as well as disappointments.
  • It combats isolation & sense of loss and nurtures connections.
  • It helps people resolve conflicts and fears, and gives people a model for facing their own life challenges.
  • It promotes inter-generational interaction and understanding.

Asking Follow Up Questions

Excerpt from Medium post “The Definitive Guide to Asking Follow-up Questions

1. Ask for Elaboration

Tell me more about that.

Easy and versatile. It’s especially useful if you don’t have a good concept or keyword to latch on to.

Let me get this straight… 

Validates and reflects their answer back at them. Generally prompts to elaborate on the idea.

How do you know? 

Used gently and respectfully asking about underlying knowledge can reveal what experts are looking for.

2. Ask in a Different Way

Use a synonym:

People generally worry about risks, so when I ask about risks I can perhaps swap in asking about worries.

Inject a perspective:

By suggesting that they put themselves in another person’s shoes I get new insights, and the added bonus of promoting the value of a perspective shift.

Point to a past experience:

Putting the topic in the context of a specific event or incident can elicit more concrete insights and relatable stories.

3. Ask about Perpendicular Perspective

When they mention a person or group, I ask “who else?” 

Since understanding connections are important, I can use the mention of one group to trigger a conversation about additional groups.

When they mention a process or action, I ask “what else do they do?” 

Verbs offer great hooks to explore the range of actions or behaviors. When they say that the Editorial group reviews all the materials, I can ask, “You said they review the materials. What else do they do with them?”

When they mention a state or condition, I ask “how else might it be?” 

Descriptors in the real world–like “first draft” or “final”–reveal that something can be appear in other states. So when someone says, “It comes to me as a draft,” I can ask, “Is there also a final state or approved state?”

When they mention a timeframe, I ask “when else?” 

Words like “sometimes” or “frequently” establish a timeline. Besides asking follow-ups like “how frequently,” I can ask about those areas not covered by the stated time frame. When they say, “always,” I can ask, “But when is it not?”

4. Ask Them to Challenge Assumptions

Get them to quantify. 

Asking them to put their observations in real terms validates their impression and offers more insights. “You say ‘never’ but I’d like to understand that better. How late are they with their deliverables?”

Get them to compare. Like quantification, comparisons validate the impressions and offer more insights. “OK, how does that compare to other groups involved in the publishing process?”

Get them to slow down. 

Making a generalization covers a lot of ground. By asking them to slow down, you’re asking them to build to their conclusion, so you understand how they got there. “OK, let’s take a step back. Walk me through the process so I can see their part in it.”


Conducting Interview Tips

Post excerpt from American Folk Life Center “Oral History Interviews

There are many publications that outline the techniques and principles of oral history work. The following tips about interviewing —the central technique concerned with recording oral history interviews —may serve as a helpful and concise summary.

1. Prepare for the interview by finding out about your interviewee, researching your topic or topics, testing your equipment, and organizing the questions that will help you plan what you want to cover during the interview.

2. Clearly and accurately explain to your interviewee who you are, why you want to do the interview, and what will happen to the information you collect from that person.

3. Be yourself. Don’t pretend to know more about something than you do know.

4. Never record secretly.

5. Record in a location that’s comfortable and quiet.

6. At the start of the recording, make a brief opening announcement that specifies date and place of the interview, names of the interviewer and interviewee, and the general topic of the interview.

7. Keep the audio recorder or video camera running throughout the interview. **(Unless you have assistance for easier logging later)

8. During the interview, encourage your interviewee by paying attention. Keep any time spent looking at a list of questions or adjusting the recording equipment to a minimum.

9. As a rule, keep questions short. Avoid complicated multi-part questions.

10. Never ask a question you don’t understand.

11. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with “yes”or “no.”

12. Don’t ask leading questions that suggest answers.

13. Try to keep your opinions out of the interview.

14. Don’t begin with questions about controversial subjects.

15. Don’t interrupt your interviewee’s answers. Use non-verbal communication (eye-contact and nodding) to encourage him or her.

16. Use follow-up questions to elicit more detailed information.

17. Be prepared to let your interviewee take the discussion off in different directions. This can sometimes lead to unexpected and exciting discoveries.

18. Make the recording as complete and accurate a record of the interview as you can. If you are using only an audio recorder, and the interviewee makes a significant gesture —ask more questions that allows the information to be captured on the recording verbally.

19. Consider using visuals during the interview such as photographs, maps, and other materials to elicit information.

20. Keep your interviews to a reasonable length. A typical length for an interview is between one and one and a half hours. It is the interviewer’s responsibility to determine if the interview should be concluded because the interviewee is becoming fatigued or for any other reason.

21. Make a brief closing announcement at the end of the interview.

22. Carefully save the recording so it can be retrieved later on. This may involve placing a copy of a digital recording on a hard drive and giving it an accession number that will allow it to be readily identified out of the other interviews made during the project.

23. Use a release form. As mentioned earlier, this will clearly establish that the interviewee has agreed to take part in the interview and allow the recording used in accordance with the stated goals of the project.

24. Carefully review the recording of the interview later on in order to analyze the data, prepare for future interviews, and improve your interviewing technique.


What makes stories influential?

We all love stories, everybody knows that … but why are stories such a powerful way to influence others?

“A powerful yet subtle shift occurs when you seek to influence people to make “wise” decisions rather than the “right” ones.” –Annette Simmons

Annette Simmons – Six Kinds of Stories

To date my favorite guru on the influential power of stories is Annette Simmons. My favorite book title is “The Story Factor”. Here she recommends that if you want to use story to influence others (and who doesn’t?) … ponder these Six Kinds of Stories:

Who-I-Am Stories

As a rule, we are not influenced by those we do not trust. We need to know someone before we can really trust them … and earning our respect takes time. Who-I-Am stories illustrate a personal experience or a true story that speaks to our personality, our character, and ultimately our likeability and trust worthiness.

Why-I-Am-Here Stories

Human beings have an innate sense of fairness and reciprocity. Sure, our bottom line is “What’s in it for us?”, but we don’t bother asking until we understand ‘What’s in it for them?”. Why-I-Am-Here stories illustrate a personal experience or a true story that conveys our motivations, which ultimately reveals if our intentions are genuinely good.

Vision Stories

In theory, we all understand that life is a never ending cycle of ups and downs. But when we’re in the real world experiencing obstacles, or listening to why we should overcome for “the cause” … we are not on board unless we “SEE” the goodness of the pay back. Vision stories connect struggle to the meaningful light at the end of the tunnel.

Teaching Stories

Any teachable moment involves demonstrating various results arising from different actions. Yet to truly influence behavior one must first ask the audience’s question “WHY should I CHANGE?” Teaching stories use the power of human experience to communicate beyond end results to what makes certain actions more worthwhile.

I-Know-What-You’re-Thinking Stories

Skepticism is a natural first response to any proposed change. Understandably, because to accept something new means to sacrifice something else. I-Know-What-You’re-Thinking stories validate unspoken objections to soften fixed positions of resistance.

Values-In-Action Stories

Though “actions speak louder than words” … a story about those actions is the next best thing to being there. Values-In-Action Stories use personal experience to communicate doing the right thing (when no one was looking) … or lessons learned when a different choice was made.



Nurstory is a collaboration between nursing faculty, researcher, and documentary filmmaker with Seedworks Films, Sue Hagedorn, and the founders of the digital storytelling movement, StoryCenter, conducting storytelling workshops to examine how personal stories of nurses and other providers can contribute to nursing education.

Nurse participants share stories about challenges and formative decisions they make, in nursing. The resulting stories are being used to engage nursing faculty, nursing doctoral candidates, and practicing providers in dialogue about health care ethics, the value of reflective practices, the need to address secondary trauma among nurses, and the true meaning of compassionate care.

THAT KID by Bobbi Jo O’Neil

Perhaps we are made from the stories we carry. For forensic nurses, then, this is at times a harrowing place in which to live. This Nurstory digital storytelling workshop helped participants process vicarious/secondary trauma and then externalize those narratives into digital stories.


Personal Narrative Basics

Excerpt from Texas Gateway “Write a Personal Narrative

All personal narratives have these features:

  • You can think of them as short autobiographical sketches (slices of your life), which are factual.
  • You write them about singular events, which can cover anything that has happened to you.
  • They are meaningful to you and include your personal reactions, insights, and observations.
  • You write them from the first person perspective, so they use the pronouns I, me, my, mine.

Four steps in preparing to write a personal narrative include:

  1. Brainstorm ideas and decide on an event or experience in your life about which you want to write. For example, you can use a graphic organizer to help recollect past experiences or events.
  2. Narrow the focus of the event or experience by adding details. You can start the narrowing process for your essay by remembering as many details as you can about your entries in the brainstorming graphic organizer.
  3. Pick one of the details on which to focus. That is, choose ONE detail about the experience or event you picked and think hard about what happened and how you felt about it.
  4. Write down the central idea of your essay that includes both the event and why it is important to you. Use all the thoughts and feelings you wrote down in the previous step to help you focus on exactly what is (and continues to be) significant about the experience you chose.

Questions to help begin writing personal narrative:

  • The event or experience that I am focusing on is . . .
  • The details that I remember about this event are (as many as you can remember):
  • Some words that I would use to describe my event or experience are (for example, frightening, fulfilling, anxious, joyful):
  • I was deeply affected by . . .
  • This changed me because it . . .
  • I will always remember . . .
  • This is important to me because it . . .

Object Stories

What stories do objects hold? How can using our own objects help us access our own personal stories?

Below is a beautiful object story by Graziella Bonaguidi.

YOUR TURN! Choose your object and think about why you chose it. Ask yourself:
  • What do I want to say about this object?
  • What details will help my listeners understand my object or my story?
Six prompts to help you write an object story:

1. Discovery
When and how did you first receive or encounter the object?
What was your first impression of it?
Who was there?

2. Meaning
Did you know it was significant from the beginning?
How did your object gain meaning?
Has its meaning changed over time?

3. Value
What does the object say about you?
What event or person taught you the importance of this object?

4. Reward
What is the best reward of owning your object?

5. Conclusion
If you had to give it to someone, who would that be and what would you say to them?

6. Description
Before we take pictures, please describe your object.
What does it look like?
What does it feel like?
What does it smell like?


What is a video script?

A video script is the blueprint and foundation for your digital video. It’s a chronological run-down of scenes displaying the dialogue and action that you want to appear in your video.

Just as an architect’s blueprint is the foundation for the construction of a building, so too is the script for crafting a video. As the writer/storyteller, you are essentially the “architect” of what will be seen and heard by your audience.

Writing a script allows you to whittle down your ideas into one coherent unfolding story line of words, imagery and sounds. A video script displays the multiple layers happening as a video plays. This blueprint bridges the gap between the story idea and video editing needed to craft a digital story.

Feel free to use our 4 column video script template.