GUIDE – The Elements of Digital Storytelling

Below are some of the many notes I’ve taken and passages I’ve saved in the process of doing web research on digital storytelling. Most of the wording and all of the concepts belong to the original authors, but I didn’t always do a good job of saving source info, so I’ll need to add that later.


A Google search on digital storytelling is likely to lead you to these elements in some form or another:

  • Audience – Stories have a particular audience in mind.
  • Purpose – Stories are trying to accomplish a task (inform, educate, entertain, scare, etc.)
  • Content – Content must be meaningful. Digital content adds to the story
  • Voice – Stories are told from a specific perspective(s) and uses the tellers voice to enrich the story.
  • Technology – Technology is used to extend the story.
  • Connections – Good stories connect with the participants.
  • Economy – Stories tell enough to get the point across and no more.


Excerpt from a TechSoup article

1. Point of View – Who is the narrator and why is he/she talking to us?
2. Dramatic Question – Desire – Action – Realization
3. Emotional Content – What are the emotions associated with your narrative?
4. The Gift of your Voice – What does your narrator sound like?
5. The Power of the Soundtrack – What music sets the mood for your story?
6. Economy – Keep it short and succinct.
7. Pacing – The rhythm of the story helps set the tone

Point of View. Telling your digital story from one perspective can help you decide which content to include and which to leave out. To determine your story’s point of view, ask yourself what your story’s message is, why it’s important to tell it, and who your audience will be.

Dramatic Question. A dramatic question is posed by the narrator at the beginning of the story to create tension and draw in the audience. A dramatic question is usually not an actual question that the narrator poses; rather, it is an intriguing statement that causes the viewers to ask themselves a question.

“‘I was seven years old when I met my father’ is an example of a dramatic question,” said Spagat. “It hooks you in and motivates you to listen to the story until its conclusion.”

Emotional Content. Stories that include incidences of loss, redemption, crisis, or change are key to keeping your audience engaged and interested. “[Emotional content] is what everybody can relate to and what makes stories so universal,” said Spagat. She noted that it can be helpful to create a story about an experience that has already been resolved, as perspective plays an important role in being able to clearly examine your past emotions.

Voice. A good narrator can help give your digital story direction and personality and can make it more powerful than using text only. Weinshenker suggests adopting an informal tone when relating your story, as if you were talking with someone over a cup of coffee.

Soundtrack. Music can be a great way to establish mood and complement your overall message. Choose carefully, however: the wrong music can actually undermine your story.

Instrumental music is often the best choice, as lyrics can interfere with your narration or contradict your message, notes the Digital Storytelling Cookbook. Yet no matter what music you include, make sure you keep it at an appropriate volume to avoid drowning out the narrator’s voice.

Economy. Keeping your script brief (between 250 and 350 words) can help you decide what content to include. “Economy of words plays an essential role in making digital stories short and sweet and emotionally compelling,” said Spagat. “It forces the writer to cut out all the extraneous stuff and focus only on the language that supports the central focus of the story.”

Pacing. Just as a glacial pace can bore viewers, a rushed story can overwhelm them. To hold your audience’s attention, strive for a happy medium; vary the amount of time that images stay on the screen, and use effects such as pan and zoom when appropriate.



Excerpt from (source still needed)

Narrative provides human interest, spark our curiosity, and draw us close to the storyteller. In addition, narratives can do the following:

  • Create a sense of shared history, linking people together.
  • Provide entertainment: Most people enjoy a thrilling movie or an intriguing book
  • Provide psychological healing. Reading or listening to the narrative of someone who faced a life crisis similar to one you are experiencing can help you through the crisis. They can also help the writer deal with the crisis.
  • Provide insight: Narratives can help you discover values, explore options, and examine motives.

All stories account of something that happened — an event or series of events, after which something or somebody is changed. As in a fictive story, your personal essay will contain the similar elements: a character (who?) to whom something happens (what?), in some place (where?), at some time (when?), for some reason (why?), told from a particular perspective (how?).

Characters: In the personal essay, your main character is yourself, so try to give your readers a sense of who you are through your voice, actions, level of awareness, and description. The characters in a good story are believable and interesting; they come alive for the readers.

Voice: Language reveals who you are; chose your words to reflect your theme as well as yourself.

Actions: Readers learn something about the kind of person you are through your actions.

Insight: One of the best ways to reveal who you are is to show yourself becoming aware of something, gaining a new way of seeing the world, a new insight. While such awareness can occur for apparently unexplainable reasons, it most often happens when you encounter new ideas or have experiences that change you in some way. This is not the same as a tacked on “moral”.

Telling Details: Describe yourself and other participants in your story in such a way that the details and facts help tell your story. A telling detail or fact is one that advances your characterization of someone without your having to render an obvious opinion.

Setting: Experiences happen in some place at some time, and good essays describe these setting. To describe a believable physical setting, you need to re-create on paper the sights, sounds, smells, and physical sensations that allow readers to experience it for themselves. In addition to telling the
details that support your plot and/or character development, try to include evocative details, colorful details of setting and characters. The telling details of a setting can reveal something essential about your essay without your explaining them. After all, you can let your reader to do a little work.

Sequence of Events: In every narrative, events are ordered in some way. While you cannot alter the events that happened in your experience, as a writer, you need to decide which events to portray and in what order to present them. Remember, sequencing of events need not be chronological.

Why use storytelling over other forms of communication

It seems stories are hard-wired into our psyche. People have been passing information along via storytelling for as long as humans have had a rich language to draw from. Stories are a great way to connect people with ideas, at a human level. A well-told story — focused on sharing pertinent details that express surprising meaning and underlying emotions — effects the emotions and the intellect simultaneously.


1. Create anticipation: Set up the action to come.
2. Create propulsion: Make your scenes have consequences.
3. Compress time: Limit the amount of time you cover.
4. Let emotion and event, not the passage of time, prompt your story: Don’t be bound by the calendar.


What’s the point?: Know what you intend to convey both narratively and emotionally. You should be able to describe the essence of the transformation of your character in one sentence and the tone of the story in a couple of words.

Be Authentic: Stories are more powerful when the include a little bit of you. Honest expression is stronger and more resonant than cliché.

Character-Driven: Characters are a great vehicle through which to express deep human needs and generate empathy and interest from your audience. Focus on the character.

Dramatic Action: Your story should have three components: Action, Conflict, and Transformation.

  • Action: What is the character trying to do?
  • Conflict: What is in her way? What questions linger beneath the surface?
  • Transformation: What is the big insight? How do the action and conflict resolve?

Details: “Behind all behavior lies emotion.” What details can you share about your character and their situation that will suggest the emotions that lie beneath?