Digital Storytelling: Where to begin?

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A comprehensive guide to the theory and techniques of story-telling in the digital age, Bryan Alexander’s New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media is a consummate “How To” guide for anyone wanting to take their unique stories, fiction or non-fiction, and put them online. Whether in a series of YouTube videos, blog posts, tweets, or something more extensive like a game or an exhibit, Alexander provides models of best practice for how to undergo the process of taking an idea from its beginning stages to its release. A section in Chapter 12 called “Digital Storytelling on Your Own” articulates two methods of digitizing a story concept:

  • Small-scale repetition

Perhaps the easiest way to jump into the world of releasing stories online, Alexander encourages storytellers to “begin with a small media horizon”– like single blog posts or updating sequential images to a Flickr account. The idea of this method is to intrigue your audience into following the progression of the tale being told as it unfolds. The important thing here, Alexander emphasizes is to start small. He writes, “The idea is to start a sequence, because the next step is to extend the story in time. If it’s an image on Flickr, write comments to carry the story further. Or create another image and make a pool of the two…If it’s a wiki page, make a second one, then a third listing the first two in order. If it’s a blog post, add comments and then a new post”(Alexander, 194.) Then you release it onto the web!

  • Large-scale project management

For larger projects with higher stakes, Alexander suggests relying on frameworks from the world of project management, particularly constructs from the film world. He highlights a multistage process for undertaking bigger digital story-telling projects:

1.Deliberate brainstorming

It takes time and energy to enter into a creative mindset–especially for those who do not enter it naturally. The brainstorming section, Alexander notes, is as psychological as it is technological. Taking the time to enter into this creative space and formulate a solid idea is crucial to the success of a project and requires time to accomplish.

2. Preproduction planning

After the process of brainstorming, the more technical section of planning happens. This is the time when project participants lay out timelines, milestones, and risk management strategies are developed here.

3. Production and creation

Actualize the story and make it live!

4. The social life of a digital story

The story-tellers must decide how to interact with the social life of the story. Will the creators create social media accounts for the story? How engaged will the creators be with the public? How involved will the public be with the story? How will harmful responders be handled? These are all questions that need to be considered.

5. The afterlife

 

Finally, Alexander addresses the importance of story creators formulating the plan for what will happen when the story reaches completion. The idea of sustainability is an important consideration for all digital projects, digital story-telling included. “Creators should decide how they will archive materials: perpetual hosting by themselves, outsourcing it to someone else, or relying on one of the major digital memory projects (Internet Archive, Google)” (Alexander, 195). Making the story available through sustainable means ensures the longevity of the project and its significance for future users.

Taking these methods into consideration makes the prospect of creating digital stories online a far less daunting prospect, at least for me. These frameworks, particularly the second, will inform my group’s work into developing our digital exhibit describing the life and career of labor leader Mollie West. As public historians, we construct engaging narratives all the time to engage audiences with the collections of particular cultural institutions. These frameworks will help me to do that work more intentionally going forward.

 

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