GUIDE – Approach to Digital Storytelling (From Fall 2012 Syllabus)

NOTE: The material below is from a syllabus page for my Fall 2012 digital storytelling class.

Our primary goal across all projects is to explore contemporary ways of engaging in the ancient tradition of storytelling. While storytelling can be defined fairly broadly, we will focus on the form of storytelling known as the personal narrative.


Personal narratives can come in a variety of forms, including short vignettes, creative non-fiction essays, book-length memoirs, or digital storytelling, but regardless of form they all have two things in common:

  • the topic is drawn from the writer’s personal experience, such as memories, events, objects, encounters, relationships, other moments of personal significance
  • the purpose is to make an emotional connection with the audience by providing insight into some aspect of human nature

Not all personal narratives are serious or “heavy,” however. People’s own experiences often make great subjects for humorous narratives, and inspiring audiences to laughter is certainly a kind of emotional connection. Likewise, not all personal narratives convey common human experiences. Some narratives engage audiences precisely because they focus on lives or experiences that are unfamiliar and new.


What’s most important about these stories is that they tell the “truth,” meaning that they capture the essence of the storyteller’s experience, not that they document those experiences in exacting detail. “Play by play” accounts don’t generally hold the audience’s attention, so good storytellers find ways to weave their experiences into narrative structures, using strategies from literary fiction or film.

Some of these strategies include following a recognizable plot, heightening anticipation through foreshadowing, building up to and resolving conflicts, providing sensory details, using dialogue to convey conversations, and so on. In other words, these techniques allow storytellers to fulfill the age-old command from creative writing: to show rather than tell.

Given that our focus is on digital storytelling, we will also pay attention to how each digital media format allows us to expand our storytelling options beyond words on a page. First you’ll experiment with how to tell stories in single-media formats (audio, image, and video), and then you’ll combine these formats to produce a multimedia story as your final project.


Our primary “textbook” for the class is the Digital Storytelling Cookbook (PDF), distributed by the Center for Digital Storytelling. The first few chapters of this handbook will help you identify strategies for structure and delivery that are common to most forms of personal narrative, although some apply specifically to narratives conveyed through digital media. Plan to return to these chapters as you work on each story.

You’ll also be asked to read a few articles on calendar entries, and we’ll discuss in class what topics and strategies best suit each project. I’ll supply links to additional resources as needed, under the Resources tab in the top menu. Also see the composing resources available on