The ‘story’ in digital storytelling

At its most effective, digital storytelling is a powerful tool of emancipation, revelation and discovery to maker and viewer alike. The effectiveness of a digital story depends primarily on the ‘story’ it tells, enhanced by the images. Most effective digital stories are short: up to two and a half minutes long only, comprising not more than 200-250 words. In effective stories of any media there is usually a sense of causality and development or progression from one point somehow to another and completion. The same applies to digital stories, and this fact is crucial in 2 distinguishing the form from simple reports. The importance of having a story at the heart of a digital story – with a beginning, an end and some development and interest between those points – is vital. Those digital stories which lack this characteristic are essential descriptive, and while they can be interesting they are generally much less compelling for the viewer. It is important, however, to note that without feedback from the participants it is impossible to gauge whether the process of making the stories was in itself useful or even transformative regardless of the end result. People tell stories to make sense of experience and to teach beliefs and values to others. Narratives in most manifestations usually carry a moral message from the maker / writer to the audience or reader; this affects digital storytelling too. However, even where a moral message can be detected in a personal digital story, there is something about the form that seems to prevent the story from seeming overly didactic or like instructional or educational programmes. The use of storytelling as the basic form of knowledge transfer and teaching is very powerful and has proved enduring over millennia. Digital storytelling is essentially the application of technology to this age-old experience of sharing personal narratives and seeking to teach and learn from them. What is different, and what makes these digital stories so potentially powerful, is the availability of the tools for developing, enhancing, storing and disseminating the stories in new ways. Before turning to look at digital storytelling and the process of making digital stories in more depth, it would be useful to investigate the importance of narrative and storytelling, since this lies at the heart of digital storytelling.