Tips for Crafting Digital Stories

Excerpt from “Advanced Thinking in Digital Storytelling” by John Orech

The Writing Process

The foundation of a good digital story is a solid piece of writing that includes a point, dramatic question, and emotional content. In addition to these key elements, I have my students focus on verb choice, observations, and keeping their writing concise.

Precise verbs drive a story.

Action verbs provide a far richer meaning and appeal to the senses better than linking verbs. Looking at my cat Sunny next to me, I might write “The cat was relaxed,” but a better choice would be “The cat lounged on the couch.” Verbs with a definite meaning also help the viewer create a more accurate mental picture of the story. The word “walk” is not nearly as descriptive as “saunter,” “stroll,” “stagger,” “stomp,” or “strut.”

Effective writers must observe carefully.

When viewers observe our stories, they infer meaning. If we make these inferences for them, we cheat our audience. “He was mad,” tells the audience, but “His nostrils flared, his teeth clenched, and his eyes bulged” allows the viewer to draw their own inferences and become a more active participant in the story. Including sensory terms and descriptions allows the audience to create the picture in their minds.

Too much background dilutes a story.

Feeling like they need to set up an entire scene so they don’t confuse their audience, writers often add too much detail. However, a carefully written first sentence can take us right into the story. The viewer will figure out what is happening based on their own experiences.

I had one student who wrote about an incident at a dance camp she attended. Her story initially started with an entire paragraph explaining location, how she got there, when she went, and so on; she transformed the beginning into, “My legs tensed as I waited for my cue; after all the sweat at camp, it was Showtime.” The tone, point, and dramatic question are clearly established: she is a dancer, at a camp, and has prepared for this moment intensely. Now she can tell her story.

Making the Movie

Movement (panning and zooming) can add a dynamic feel to still shots and can aid in developing plot, revealing character, or creating a dramatic effect. When working with my students, I encourage the judicious use of movement. When they grumble about not using video, I share footage from Ken Burns’ documentaries to help explain that brilliant manipulation and stunning effects can be made using still images.

Students need to learn the impact of each movement before they can effectively create interplay between movement and narration.

Continue reading Tips for Crafting Digital Stories


Writing personal voice

I think this kid’s story “Mashed Potato Pizza” is a great example of effective personal narrative. Check it out and let’s talk.

mashed potatoe pizza -story script

Did you find this story compelling? I did. First I chuckled and that’s always a good sign. But deeper layers emerged too.

To me it is a nice “simple yet profound” blend. We all have been there – being embarrassed in public & being comrades within a group. I liked being reminded about the great value of laughing at yourself.

To me this story follows the essential aspects outlined in my post Key Ingredients of Digital Storytelling.

It is a personal experience expressed using conversational language. There is emotion and feelings … impatience, hunger pains, and misfortune  to name a few. The story effectively conveys an unfolding scene taking place in a school lunch line. There is effective story contrast. Do we get pizza? We got pizza! Arghh … dropped pizza! I especially like the contrast between deep dismay and deep laughter.

This story on paper effectively evokes pictures and sounds in our heads. What would this look like as a digital story?


Layers of Visual Language

The visual vernacular can be drilled down into two forms of expression: Explicit and Implicit.

EXPLICIT imagery:
literal or direct images used to illustrate a story

Explicit imagery is useful for conveying the necessary details of your story or helping to set the scene for your audience. For example, as you tell a story about the family farm, you show a picture of a farm to directly transport the audience into the setting of the story

IMPLICIT imagery:
implied or indirect images used to illustrate a story

Implicit imagery is useful for implying or representing another meaning beyond explicit or literal meaning. For example, colorful autumn leaves used to illustrate vital aging.

Two techniques to convey meaning through implicit imagery are visual metaphor and juxtaposition.

VISUAL METAPHOR utilizes symbolic representation. For example, a picture of a flower growing out of a concrete sidewalk to illustrate overcoming a personal challenge. Audiences connect the emotional content of the struggling plant with the storytellers struggle.

JUXTAPOSITION utilizes image choice and sequential order. For example, consider the different meaning of a picture of a crouching tiger followed by a picture of a deer herd versus the crouching tiger followed by rifle scope. One combination illustrates a feeling of power while while the other evokes vulnerability. Audiences interpret the juxtaposition of visual images as having implicit meaning that goes beyond what each image explicitly means on its own.


What is a Story Arc?

Each story is unique, yet all stories can be boiled down into three distinct “acts”: beginning, middle, and end.

A story arc is a tool to help storytellers outline a good story into five key components:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling action
  5. Resolution


The exposition is where the story begins and sets the stage for the audience. The introduction should include a SETTING, both physical and emotional; it might also include a BACKSTORY.

Rising Action

The rising action is what begins to move the story in a forward direction. The inciting incident is the initial action that sets the story in motion. The rising action is generally characterized by conflicts and complications to drive the plot.

This rising action component may contain four separate elements:

  • the trigger – the event that sets the plot into motion
  • the quest – how the storyteller responds to the trigger
  • the surprise – any twist, turn, or unexpected event that arises
  • the critical choice – decisions made that lead to the climax of the story


The climax of the story is where the plot reaches its critical mass; it’s the tipping point where tensions or excitement are at their highest and the audience is most engaged by what’s happening.

The climax is the turning point of the story and provides a sense of change.

Falling Action

The falling action occurs on the other side of the climax. While the rising action helps build towards the climax, the falling action helps deescalate and ease readers into the conclusion of the story cymbalta cost.


Last but not least, the resolution of the story is where the plot comes to an end.

The resolution is the final curtain call of the story and strives to leave a lasting impression.



Story Triggers

Sometimes it helps to have a specific question to begin a story from.

Tell a story about…

  • An event that taught you a lesson
  • A time when you were healed
  • A time when you experienced prejudice or stereotyping
  • The best advice you ever received
  • A time when you helped somebody else
  • A time when you had to make a big decision
  • A time when you learned a new skill
  • A time when you taught someone else a new skill
  • A time when you overcame an obstacle
  • A time when you made a difference in somebody’s life
  • A person who you admire
  • A time when you were scared
  • A time when you worked (or played) as part of a team
  • A time when you felt misunderstood
  • A place that is special to you
  • Your goals for the future
  • Your hopes for your children or family
  • Something you fought for
  • Something special about your community

Excerpt from “Story Triggers” by <a href="http://www.creativenarrations Get the” target=”_blank”>Creative Narrations


Friend or Foe?

Isn’t life ironic? I don’t know about you, but I witness this time and time again! Today’s STORY SPOTLIGHT is titled The Bet. It touched my heart (and funny bone) about how an adversary can also be an ally.

The Bet

(Author Unknown)

A friendly wager propels a cantankerous restoration project.

Created in a workshop facilitated by Dr. David Kaufman and Dr. Andrew Sixsmith through a Partnership Development Grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).


What’s My Story?

Ideas and inspiration for personal stories can come from many sources. Here is a small selection of common story themes. Yours need not fit into one or any of these categories.

Stories that acknowledge, honor or reflect on the life of one who has died.

Stories of significant relationships in your life. Common subjects are immediate relations, including parents, grandparents, siblings, spouse or partner. Other meaningful relationships may include a business or creative partner, a teacher or mentor, childhood or lifelong friends, even pets. Who are these subjects and what impact have they made on your life? Consider including stories of love, admiration, longing or loss, disappointment or a poignant reflection of a person.

Almost all people, groups or businesses can point to a significant moment or event in the past that was a determining factor in how things are today, e.g., “If my mother had not taken a ceramics class, she would not have met my father….” The genesis story is an essential part of almost all family histories, examining the question, “Where do we come from?”

Stories in which you have experienced challenge and how (or whether) you overcame it. They can be physical as well as mental challenges, i.e., the challenge of climbing a 15,000-foot mountain, conquering the fear of changing careers or returning to school after an extended absence.

All of us have owned or known of a possession that held tremendous value in our lives and the compelling stories that accompany them our website. Objects or artifacts can be as varied as a lucky charm, a rock found on a memorable hike or a precious family heirloom handed down through many generations. What are these objects, how do they exist in your life and what value do you place on them?

Sadly, it is guaranteed that human beings will experience at least some element of emotional suffering. Stories about pain and the healing process are ultimately about resurrection and finding a way to continue. These types of stories can be about hurt and how that changed you.

Stories about locations, specific or vast, capture memories. Geographical places hold intense memories and emotional significance in our lives. Whether you have a fond memory of spending childhood summers on a grandparent’s farm or the painful recollection of a war combat zone in a distant country, reconciling stories and emotions of these places is a useful exercise in understanding ourselves—we might refer to it as narrative
archaeology: What’s buried in this place?

This theme is an abundant source of stories, for we have all had some sort of journey or travel experience that can be told as an adventure.

Countless stories can be found in the well-worn shoe box or photo album filled with our treasured photographs. Each photo preserves a moment in time and each moment has a corresponding story: “Where was I when this photo was taken? Who took it? Who is in the photo with me? What was I thinking when this was taken?”

Excerpt from KQED Digital Storytelling Manual Chapter 1 “Finding the Experience” . KQED is a public radio and television broadcasting organization in Northern California, which also provides digital storytelling training.


KEY Ingredients of Digital Storytelling

We are especially drawn to stories that speak to us first hand about an authentic personal experience.

Effective first person narrative is “nothing fancy”, like writing a letter or an informal conversation.

Passion, frustration, hope, loss, dreams … this is the stuff that makes our lives rich and meaningful. Good stories express a feeling or personal insight (big or small).

A good story details key moments in such a way that the audience gets a vivid sense of the moment, place, or experience and its impact.

Without contrast, life would be boring. Good stories hold our attention using contrast.

A good digital story speaks with an authentic personal voice enhanced with compelling visuals and sounds.