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Elements of Digital Storytelling

February 11, 2013

My grandfather came to this country the first time when he was 14 years old. He and his brother bet the neighbor boys that their father made the best apple jack (a liquor made from apples). They both brought a bucket and when both buckets were empty, my great-uncle fell off a fence and almost gouged out his eye. My grandfather felt so bad that he ran away from home and stowed away on a ship for America and that is how he got to the country.

As you can see, the same story has more impact in a digital format than just reading the story.The use of pictures, voice, movement, and inflection among other things, bring the story to life even more than just hearing or reading the story. That is what digital storytelling can do for stories. Digital storytelling allows us to connect on a different level than just reading or hearing a story. Henry Jenkins, “each media platform creates it’s own relationship between the storyteller and listener,” Storytelling Part 1: Change of Storytelling from storytelling on Vimeo.

Storytelling connects us to our past, it connects us to other people. It tells us who we are, it shows us what we want to be. It can show us a cause to fight for, or what we have missed or how much we have in life. Weather it is traditional storytelling or digital storytelling, storytelling impacts our lives.

According to Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, he “says science backs up the long-held belief that story is the most powerful means of communicating a message. And that scientific “results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.” This is in part why stories are so powerful and how it can change our view on the world and even how we act.

In fact, according to The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains by Leo Widrich “stories (are) how we think. We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation.” I know that I make up stories and scenarios of conversations in my head that rarely happen. I think I do this in order to be prepared for different situations.

In our post-modern society we fill up our free time with entertainment. We used to entertain ourselves as a society by visiting with friends and telling stories. Now, we watch stories others have written and performed in television and in movies. We hear about our friends lives from facebook posts and twitter. We watch you tube and spend time watching stories that way. People even use digital media for reading books.

In some ways we are more connected to the world than ever before, but less connected in other ways.

I love the genre of storytelling. I had a teacher at my University who was a storyteller. Now, I am not talking about someone talking about their life if you could get him off topic, but he was a storyteller. You may wonder, how is that different from a parent or a friend telling you a story of what has happened. Stylistically, it is very different. Professional storytelling is an art. A storyteller can capture your attention the same way a very intriguing movie can. A storyteller uses their voice, and body movements to catch your attention and draw you into the world that they create. An effective digital story can be as engrossing. The use of music, soundtracks and voice inflection and the correct video or pictures can make a very effective product.

Storytelling is an art form, the same way digital storytelling is an art form. The center for digital storytelling is just one of the resources and ways to learn how create and share a digital story. The featured story on this site, is very artfully done. It reminds me of another art form called slam poetry that is a performance type of poetry but now because of technology, it is the basis for a television show on HBO and you tube has numerous videos of slam poetry, professional and amateur. These poems, in of themselves are an art form and with one of these slam poems set to picture or a video it would be a classic digital story.

Although many websites that I found say that digital storytelling is mainly a short video telling a story with pictures, music, a story or video. I think that is too limiting a definition. I think that when a story goes from just written or just spoken into a digital format with more than one way of connecting to the content it is digital storytelling.


Gottschall, J. (n.d.). Why storytelling Is the ultimate weapon.
Co.Create. Retrieved February 11, 2013, from
Institut für Theorie, Zurich University of Applied Sciences and
Arts. (2010, July 1). Storytelling part 1: Change of
storytelling. Vimeo. Retrieved February 11, 2013, from

Mayo, J. (2013, January 1). Stand up. YouTube. Retrieved February
11, 2013, from
Slam poem; I’m taking my ball and going home (Scott). (2010,
September 17). YouTube. Retrieved February 11, 2013, from

Widrich, L. (n.d.). The science of storytelling: Why telling a story
is the most powerful way to activate our brains. Lifehacker.
Retrieved February 11, 2013, from

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Larry Mitchell permalink
    February 11, 2013 9:02 pm

    “Stylistically, it is very different. Professional storytelling is an art.” That one comment resonated as I read through your work. Once one has experienced a true storyteller, a master of audience and spoken word, it is truly hard to find a standard that matches.

    Digital Storytelling, in some fashions, attempts to re-create this experience I think but I am not sure it always hits this mark. Your connection to your grandfather … I think of the power if his voice is what we hearing. I recently recovered a picture of my grandfather with his normal stoic look but I also remember his voice as he told the stories of his life. But within that I also remember the flavor of his voice tinged by his daily cigarette and shot of whiskey, the look on his face, and the emotions that escaped his eyes. Possible with a digital platform, no …. enhanced by a digital presentation, possibly but without the smells and flavor, no.

    That being said, nicely done. Connecting the personal with the topic effectively sets a stage from which one wants to keep reading. As for the question of the embedding you posted, without seeing the html code I am at a loss. I’m guessing that the link you posted had some reference as to display. Will see if I can lift the html code and give a better answer.

  2. February 11, 2013 10:13 pm

    I enjoyed your story and the introduction into your post. It was a very interesting idea creating a digital story to compare to the written story. I found a mistake here “Weather it is traditional storytelling or digital storytelling, storytelling impacts our lives.” Weather should be whether. I am not sure how you embedded the videos into your literature cited maybe Skip can help you with that.

  3. Allison permalink
    February 11, 2013 10:25 pm

    Nice job. I particularly like your introduction with the video comparison component. As I was working on my own paper, I kept thinking to myself, “why am I WRITING a paper about digital storytelling? Shouldn’t I be creating this digitally??” So I’m glad you did just that. Way to go beyond the assignment!

    I found your links to the sources within the paper strange for APA format. I believe all you need is the author’s last name, year published–both in parentheses. You already acknowledged that the video links in your reference list needs to change. I’m not a wordpress expert, so I’m not able to help you there.

    I really liked the beginning of your paper. I was very drawn into it and really liked your references to how storytelling is woven into our daily lives with facebook, twitter, conversations with ourselves, etc. SO TRUE!!! I felt like the paragraph about the poetry slam threw me a little bit though. Perhaps it just needs a smoother transition into it?

    I think you have a great explanation or why we tell stories and what storytelling is, so certainly don’t lose that, but you didn’t mention the ELEMENTS of digital storytelling as the assignment asks. You probably ought to toss that in there somewhere.

    Grammatically – only thing I caught was in the 3rd paragraph, “weather” should be “whether”

    Great points you made ~ just a couple of tweaks here and there and I think you’ll be ready to publish!

  4. Kelly Gebauer permalink
    February 12, 2013 3:51 pm

    You start your blog out with a very interesting story that made me want to keep reading and check out the video. Well done with hooking your audience. You made your point very clear about the difference between digital storytelling and traditional storytelling with your fantastic story as an example. Wish I had thought of that.

    I like how you focused on the art form aspect of storytelling. This sentence brought it home, “Storytelling is an art form, the same way digital storytelling is an art form.” It made me think about the similarities between traditional and digital art wise. I focused on the communication aspect in my blog more than the art. It was nice to read this perspective and it adds to my growing definition.

    I also agree we can’t limit the definition of digital storytelling, but I think guidelines are also important too. So I think eventually a balance we be found.

    Here is a tiny error I found:
    Weather (whether) it is traditional storytelling or digital storytelling, storytelling impacts our lives.
    You might want to double check your in text APA citations. I’m not sure how you are supposed to do it for videos, but it can’t hurt to double check. I find it hard to balance the blog format with the academic in this sense. Your hyperlinked text is good and shows your depth of research, but I personally prefer embedded items so I can stay in one place. I’m totally adding that one article about the science of storytelling to Diigo.

    Hope you find this helpful and again it was a pleasure reading your perspective.

    Happy Blogging 🙂

  5. February 17, 2013 7:34 pm

    Wow– what a great example of the power of voice vs. just reading the text! Hearing you read aloud to me that first paragraph through video, along with photo images is SO much more powerful, even if it’s just a 25 second story! Crazy the difference that makes.

    There is something very profound and very archaic about family stories. Retelling our past in a digital way is even more powerful, more meaningful. I love that even though I don’t know who you are (or who your grandfather is for that matter) but this little story of the apple jack is fun and ties me somehow to you in a meaningful way.

    I really identified with the Widrich quote, “We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation.” When I was young, I always used to fantasize about being a story-book character. What would the author be writing about me? And of course, these fantasies would always be in first person narrative. We are always thinking in stories– I know that much is true.

    As far as format goes, your reference section is a little confusing. Might be helpful to put the videos somewhere else, rather than in between the list of references. If you need help listing those videos in APA, I just followed Skip’s example on the website. He listed the Henry Jenkins video in APA style. Also, possibly glancing at a couple of “Works Cited” examples in APA might help that formating as well.

    Love your video contribution!

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