Finding/telling the story

Digital storytelling first begins with constructing a story – Stories are told in first person and should be structured around a theme. Stories are prepared using a mixture of group work and individual work – where participants brainstorm ideas together and share potential stories and give each other feedback in ‘story circles’. This process leads to the refining of a script. This step should not be rushed as it frames the way in which the story develops, and takes a significant commitment from participants who are finding a way of telling their story, often for the first time.

  • Telling the story in first person narrative

Telling stories in a first person narrative enables participants to speak their own very real lived experience. Sharing a story in the first person, helps ensure personal ownership over the story’s content and is what gives the story it’s emotional power, and it’s authenticity. It can be very difficult to do because storytellers aren’t able to hide behind literary devices or inhabit anyone’s voice other than their own. The introspection involved in first-person stories can be personally transformative, building individual agency and ‘power within’. Coming to know more about oneself, and recognising one’s own positionality in the process of change, may facilitate social action at both an individual and collective level.

  • Introducing a prompt question

A prompt question can be used to structure the theme of a digital storytelling process. If workshops are related to a particular theme, for example ‘democracy and citizenship’, a question can be constructed that relates to this theme, but importantly that enables people to tell a good story. Some key considerations for identifying a question include: that it has to be open to interpretation, that it is not conceptual, that it takes participants into a real life situation rather than trying to answer a research question, and that it works for all of the participants. The question draws on people’s different daily experiences, and it emphasises that it is a personal story by using ‘you’ and ‘your’.

Download example prompt questions: For example, a good question is: What makes you feel secure and insecure in your daily life?

  • Feeling your way towards the story

Individual and group exercises can provide a space for participants to grow their story and their script. This may involve working with the ‘story arc’ to plot the beginning, middle and end of their story (at first with one sentence for each) and then developing this over the course of the workshop in an iterative way, and in artistic and creative collaboration with others.

Identifying a significant moment of change within this narrative is a part of the transformative process of digital storytelling. It helps participants to understand what brought new insights and perspectives within the subject they are exploring. The way in which the story is then built before and after this moment of change will determine the way in which the audience engages in that journey of change (Lambert 2013).

  • Understanding what makes a good story

Providing guidance to storytellers on storytelling approaches and techniques helps them develop their own powerful narrative. Facilitators encourage participants to explore key elements such as characters, style and tone, and think about engaging all six senses to help make the story come alive. Key questions to ask in building the story are: Where is the dramatic moment—the actual moment in time when something momentous occurs? What does this story reveal about the topic? Why is it necessary to tell this story?  Do you open by grabbing the reader’s interest in hearing this story? Do you end in a way that suits your objective?

“The best stories have a strong theme, a fascinating plot, a fitting structure, unforgettable characters, a well-chosen setting, and an appealing style. Try for all of these” Aaron Shepard.

Download ‘key elements of a story’ handout: Theme, Script, Plot, Story structure, Characters, style and tone (Aaron Shepard).

  • Story circles: Collaborating on story development

The story circle is at the core of the collaborative and transformative learning enabled through the digital storytelling process. Through the story circle, working together to achieve the creation of a story that each person feels proud of and impassioned by becomes the goal of the group. The facilitator plays an important role in setting the right tone so that the story circle provides a supportive group dynamic. It is worth noting that counseling skills within the facilitation team can be invaluable as participants are given space to share the story they want to consider for their DST for the first time.

Each participant will read their early scripts to the group. This is an opportunity for the storyteller to share their ideas, questions and concerns about how the story will develop, and to take public ownership of this process. Facilitators (gently, respectfully) direct the writer to tools or narrative ideas to strengthen the script or story: these lessons will in turn be applicable to the wider story telling group. Peer feedback is supported through prompt questions around the story and its structure: What confuses you/do you want to hear more of? Is there an arc – beginning/middle/end?

Download ‘the story circle’ handout: Enabling group learning and collaboration on story development through story circles

  • Script review by facilitators

One-to-one sessions with the facilitator(s) help the storyteller refine their script and think about the script becoming the ‘voice over’ for the story. Providing this space can also help support storytellers through conveying the emotional content of their story. Final scripts will be about one page, double spaced.

>> See next section: Writing/recording the story