APPROACHES to Writing About Personal Experience

ABOUT: If you’re most interested in sharing examples or observations from your own personal experience, the approaches below are your best bets. They’re all based on the genre of personal narrative and/or dramatized stories and and serve a primary purpose of connecting with audiences, with a touch of educating or analyzing, depending on the writer’s goals.

CDS-Style Digital Storytelling

Genres: Personal Narrative (may also include elements of Dramatized Stories)
Mediums: Audio, Images, Video, Web 2.0

The approach advocated by the organization that coined the term, the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS), is what I first started offering as an option for student projects in my writing classes, so I’m the most familiar with this approach.

Because the phrase “digital storytelling” has come to mean so many different things, I now modify it with “CDS-style” to clarify that I’m referring to the genre of personal narrative, conveyed as a voiceover that accompanies a series of visuals relevant to the story.

You start by writing a personal narrative that needs visuals and tone of voice to fully convey, and then you record yourself reading the narrative. You put the audio recording into a video editing app (like iMovie or MovieMaker), and add photos, video clips, and other visuals, as relevant.

The visual elements typically feature the storyteller, perhaps at different stages of life, but if you have concerns about privacy you may apply photo effects to somewhat disguise your identity. If you use photos of other people, make sure you have their permission to use the photos in a project meant for public viewing.

The final version is exported in video format and uploaded to a video hosting site. These projects are typically around 3-4 minutes.

Visual Narrative or Essay

Genres: Personal Narrative
Mediums: Animation & Comics, Audio, Images, Video, Web Writing, Web 2.0

This approach is similar to CDS-Style digital storytelling but includes options not typically associated with that approach, such as video-based storytelling, photo stories, and comic strips.

Audio Narrative or Essay

Genres:: Personal Narrative (may also include Viewpoint or Analysis)
Mediums: Audio

Option 1: CDS-Style
Follow the approach of CDS-Style digital storytelling, but without the visuals. This option works well for students who want to compose a personal narrative but either don’t have access to the necessary visuals or belief their narrative is best conveyed without visuals.

Option 2: This I Believe
Follow the concept of a “This I Believe” essay made popular by public radio, which has the potential to move a topic in the direction of analysis or viewpoint.

For more info, browse the ThisIBelieve tag archive

Option 3: StoryCorps
Another variation comes in the form of StoryCorps style interviews, which focus on sharing personal experiences through dialogue.

For more info, browse the StoryCorps tag archive

Cinematic Storytelling

Genres: Dramatized Stories
Mediums: Animation, Video, Web 2.0

This is one of the approaches I teach in the new media storytelling class, as a sort of cross between digital storytelling and short films. This approach is best suited to the genre of storytelling, which communicates in the language of fiction and cinema rather than non-fiction. Cinematic stories have characters, dialogue, settings, props, and a plot, and they unfold across a series of scenes, just like a professionally made short film.

The reason this approach is now part of new media writing is that we now have access to the tools needed to create characters and sets, without needing a Hollywood budget. The most popular options include stop motion animation and digital animation, which are now easier than ever to do, as well as using screencasting to capture social media interactions. Using live actors is generally not recommended given that audiences have significantly higher expectations from live actors than they do from a student’s first attempt at making animated characters.