Digital Storytelling 101: Basics

Digital storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Digital stories derive their power by weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, experiences, and insights.

Digital Storytelling Association

Like most stories, digital stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Using a computer to add digital images, sound effects, songs, narratives, and transitions transforms that beginning, middle, and end into a digital story.

However, a great story involves much more than just a beginning, a middle, and an end. And using digital imagery, sounds, graphics, and transitions to tell a story does not necessarily mean you will finish with a great digital story.

So that we can lay the foundation for digital storytelling it is important to review what makes up a good story. Here are the building blocks for both a written and digital story:

  1. A Setting: Gives the reader/audience a point of reference/starting point and also helps to set the mood.
    • Place (house, school, playground, etc)
    • Time (modern day, sometime in the past, sometime in the future)
    • Weather (It was a dark and stormy night...)
  2. A Plot: To help move the audience through a story you have a plot. It is the sequence of the story - this is your beginning, middle and end. Within the plot you usually have the following:
    • An introduction or beginning of the story where we get to meet the characters
    • Rising Action - something happens along the way to the character causing some sort of conflict, essential question (will the boy win the girl, defeat the dragon, etc)
    • Climax - this is the most intense part of the story and, in fact, the turning point of the story. The audience is hooked and wondering if the characters will resolve the conflict
    • Falling Action - the audience begins to see if and how the conflict was/was not resolved
    • Denouement - the final outcome of everything - the end of the story
  3. Conflict: The conflict or essential question is the reason for the plot. This is what drives the characters and audience through the story and ultimately leads us to the end of the story.
  4. Characters: A character could be yourself, or a protagonist (good guy), and/or antagonist (bad guy).
  5. Point of View: Who is telling the story, what are they feeling, and what is their reason for telling us this story?

Now that we have these basic building blocks for telling a story in place, let's look at seven elements of a digital story (taken from the Center for Digital Storytelling -

  1. Point of View
    In thinking about the point of a story, one should also be considering the reason for the story. Why this story, now, for this group of people?
  2. A Dramatic Question
    In a romance, will the girl get the guy? In an adventure, will the hero reach the goal? In a crime or murder mystery, who did it? When any of these questions are answered, the story is over.
  3. Emotional Content
    Did the story engage your emotions? Did it make you sad, happy, excited, etc? How can you enhance the emotional content through visual imagery?
  4. Adding Your Voice
    Personalizes the story, helps with English Language Learners (ELL) instruction, scripting, etc. One can also use his or her voice to convey the message so that is aligns with the imagery.
  5. The Power of a Soundtrack
    Soundtracks set the mood of our day, change the way we perceive the visual information streaming into our eyes, and establish a rhythm for our step. Here are three very different sound bites that can demonstrate to your students the impact sound can have on setting the mood.
  6. Economy
    If the writer and director do a good job, they will shoot just what is necessary to keep the story visually rich while moving forward, with only the minimum of dialogue and number of scenes necessary to allow us to envision the larger story.
  7. Pacing
    The rhythm of a story determines much of what sustains an audience’s interest. A fast-paced movie with many quick edits and upbeat music can suggest urgency, action, nervousness, exasperation, and excitement. Conversely, a slow pace will suggest contemplation, romanticism, relaxation, or simple pleasures. An additional resource that explains these elements for use in the classroom can be found at

The above information provides the foundation for what makes up a digital story. The next section overviews how to actually build the digital version of the story. Take a look at our digital story that exemplifies many of these steps. Sample Digital Story

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!