A digital story is a series of images connected with text and/or a narrated soundtrack — captured by a digital device such as an iPad or smartphone — that tell a story. It can be fiction, non-fiction, narrative, biographic, expository, or even poetry. Think of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, or Colin Low’s City of Gold. Because of its multimedia approach and appealing blend of text, color, movement, sound, and images, it has fast become one of the most popular formats for visual writers.
According to Center for Digital Storytelling, there are seven elements critical to a good digital story:
- Point of View — What is the perspective of the author?
- Dramatic Question — A key question that keeps the viewer’s attention and will be answered by the end of the story.
- Emotional Content — Serious issues that come alive in a personal and powerful way and connects the audience to the story.
- Voice — personalize the story with the author’s unique writing style to help the audience understand the context.
- Soundtrack — Music or other sounds that support and embellish the story.
- Economy — Using just enough content to tell the story without overloading the viewer.
- Pacing — The rhythm of the story and how slowly or quickly it progresses.
These elements are conveyed by the vast swath of multimedia tools available in digital storytelling.
Writing a digital story includes five basic steps:
- Research the topic so you are clear on presentation.
- Write a script, a storyboard, or a timeline of activities.
- Collect the required multimedia parts — text, images, audio, video, oral selfies, and more.
- Combine everything into an exciting story.
- Share and reflect on the completed story.
These five steps are stepping stones for beginners and critical to experienced storytellers.
There are so many online options for digital storytelling, rarely is there a writer who can’t find a web tool that fits their communication style. Here are some of the most popular. Try them all and then pick the one that works best for you:
Adobe Spark Video is an easy-to-use digital storytelling app for iPads. It integrates text, images, royalty-free clipart, background music, and your own artwork into a story you tell and then render as a movie to be shared easily through the cloud. As the name implies, the storytelling revolves around your voice. While it lacks many of the bells and whistles of more sophisticated digital storytelling tools, it includes everything necessary to relay exciting, creative stories.
Freemium; mobile app
With Puppet Pals, you add a voice-over to a selected cast of characters (only one available with the free version) and animate them to tell a story. The paid version provides additional characters and more storytelling options, but the free version allows for a great deal of flexibility in the writing process as well as an authentic expression of ideas.
Freemium; web and mobile app
Storybird is a gorgeous collection of high-quality artwork that has inspired over 5 million to write. You pick an artistic theme for a story, then add text to as many pages as you’d like. Once finished, the story is saved as a booklet that can be shared via a link, printed, or embedded in blogs or websites.
Storykit makes it easy to tell stories with photos, text, personal drawings, and audio. Each page is created individually using images from the camera roll, the optional addition of audio, and then curated into a link that can be shared with others or uploaded to the Storykit server and made available to all users.
With Tellagami, you create a thirty-second story using an animated avatar (called a gami) that moves and talks in response to a recording of your own words (added via voice or keyboard). After customizing the gami’s appearance and emotions, it is placed in a background selected from the camera roll, taken with the device camera, or hand-drawn directly onto the screen. Finally, the audio overlay is added. When completed, it can be saved to the camera roll or shared via email or a variety of social media options. This app is well-suited for book trailers or anyone who wants to promote their book but doesn’t like a visual recording of themselves. The cartoon character makes it easier to communicate required information without what is–for some–the embarrassment of seeing themselves on video.
Fee; web or iOS
VoiceThread is an interactive, cloud-based slideshow approach to digital storytelling that can share images, documents, videos, voice, and more. It’s intuitive to use, as simple as adding the media you desire with the click of a button and a drag-drop from your digital device. Once published, viewer comments are appended via typing, audio, or video. As others comment, they can draw on the screen and/or add other documents (images, files, and more) to better explain what’s being said. When completed, it’s saved as a video and can be shared in a wide variety of methods.
This is one of the most powerful digital storytelling tools, allowing users to share a wide variety of media in support of their story, narrative, documentary, or argument.
However you start the use of digital storytelling, just start! It will change the way you think of writing.
More about Digital Storytelling
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.