“I don’t have anything interesting to tell!” This sentence is unfortunately very common in the beginning of a Digital Storytelling workshop. Along with phrases such as “I’m not creative enough” or “why would anyone want to hear about that?”
Some might say that we have forgotten the art of storytelling. Many of us seem to expect from ourselves that if someone is going to want to listen to our stories, they have to be epic! Our audience should sit in awe, breathless from excitement, eager to hear the next unexpected turn of events and a beautiful world-changing ending.
Or at least, if we don’t have any interesting to tell, we should be ingenious artists, able to formulate our narratives in an intricate, brilliant language, turning the heads of literature critics and retaining our memory in the world for generations to come.
This is of course slightly overstated for the sake of the example, but there is some truth in it. We often fail to recognise ourselves as storytellers in our everyday life, and this gets even more problematic when it comes to minority groups. Groups whose viewpoints are not normally heard in mainstream media, who are at risk of exclusion because society doesn’t recognise them as a part of the norm. Groups who do not only have to overcome the expectations of themselves, but also have to face the silencing of taboos or stereotyping.
The method of Digital Storytelling
This is what we’re trying to change with the method of Digital Storytelling, a method that was invented by Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert in Berkeley, California in the 90’s and has been used all over the world since.
We believe that everyone, no matter who they might be and no matter their cultural and intellectual resources, has something interesting to tell. We have also found that as soon as the story matters to the storyteller, it is interesting to others. We want to take the stories back to where they belong, that is with the storyteller. We want to guide people to express themselves, and help them to understand that what they have to say is important, and not the least, that we want to listen to it.
In our workshops we are inviting people to tell a personal story by making a small film consisting of their recorded voice, still and moving images, and sometimes music and sounds. We facilitate our participants closely, guiding them through an intense process of creative exercises, script writing, voice recording, and an imagery and editing process.
But Digital Storytelling is a group process, and without the group we don’t get far. From the first moments of our workshops the participants start to share their stories, and one of our main concerns as facilitators is to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere, where people are willing to open up, and where they trust the group to listen.
A crucial moment in the process is the story circle, where our participants for the first time read their rough drafts out loud to the others in the group and afterwards receive feedback. This is one of the moments where it is most clear how much it means to people to tell a personal story and to be heard. The row of events that in your mind has been muddled and not important for others suddenly gets its own life when you read it out loud. To hear yourself telling your story, and as important, to see the others in the group listening, taking it seriously, makes it real. And your co-storytellers’ active interest, their suggestions and constructive feedback makes your story even stronger.
This is what makes Digital Storytelling such a strong method. Our participants discover themselves as storytellers. They realise that others recognise their emotions and mirror themselves in their stories. They find out that their co-storytellers want to listen to them, that what each of them have to tell is valuable. And they get to express themselves the way they want, through creative and technological skills they might even not have known they had.
We say that Digital Storytelling is an empowering method, and it is. But the power doesn’t come from us the facilitators, it comes from our participants themselves, our storytellers.
How does it look like?
While reading about the method, you might be wondering how does a digital storytelling video look like? First, you should be aware that those videos are made by ordinary people — not professionals in video making. This makes them natural and very true, coming straight from their hearts and personal lives. Have a look at this one — Tonya’s first story, an emotional journey with her twin sister.
Article by our amazing trainer Signe, who is a facilitator, trainer, expert and project manager in digital storytelling at Digital StoryLab and wrote her master thesis on storytelling.
We craft international workshops for artists, educators and youth workers. Together we create pedagogical artwork, share and invent practical solutions to social problems.