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Digital Storytelling: Essential Elements

This guide providesinformational tips and resources that will help one get started with digital storytelling
  • Last Updated: Jun 23, 2020 3:48 PM
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Seven Elements of Effective Digital Stories

Seven Elements of Effective Digital Stories according to the founder by Joe Lambert

During Writing During Construction
1. A Point of View 5. Pacing
2. Dramatic Question 6. Gift of your voice
3. Emotional Content 7. Soundtrack
4. Economy


 1. A Point of View

The goal of digital storytelling is to allow a writer to experience the power of personal expression. Digital stories  should  be constructed from one'sown experience and understanding. Using the first-person pronoun “I” rather than the more distant third-person point of view is essential.

 The digital story reveals the writer, as opposed to offering facts about a distanced topic. Script revision often involves an effort to bring the focus of the story back to the writer.

2. A Dramatic Question

A story that holds the attention of the audience has a dramatic question that is resolved by the end of the story. This characteristic distinguishes the digital story from a travelogue. A neighbor’s vacation slides may have an accompanying narrative, sprightly music, and cutting-edge transitional effects. However, it does not hold our attention in the same manner as a well-constructed digital story. Story circle activities allow students begin to shape their stories into a text that rewards and surprises their audience.

3. Emotional Content

The most effective digital stories evoke an emotion from the audience. We often see laughter, tears, and expressions of pleasure from the audience when digital stories are screened. This can be tremendously rewarding to student writers, validating the effort and investment they have made.  An effective digital story works to pursue, discover, and communicate new understanding that is rooted in who we are as humans.

4. Economy

The art form of the digital story as practiced in the Center for Digital Storytelling consists of a short two to three-minute vignette. This limits the script to a single double-spaced page or the amount of text that can be printed on one side of a 4 by 6 inch note card.

Limiting the scope of the digital story has two practical benefits: (1) it makes the construction process manageable in a school setting, and (2) it also makes it practical for an audience to view the stories of an entire class in a single session. From the perspective of the writing process, the discipline involved in achieving this sharpens the focus of the story, requiring the writer to decide what is essential to the story. 

5. Pacing

 For student writers, pacing means pulling back or racing forward when the story calls for it, as opposed to when the time limit approaches. This may require tough decisions about what parts of the story can be omitted. It is important to confront these decisions during the script revision process, in order to allow a natural pace and varied flow when the digital story is constructed.

6. The Gift of Your Voice

The process of digital storytelling allows students to record themselves narrating their own scripts. 

The pitch, inflection, and timbre of the storyteller’s voice convey meaning and intent in a very personal way. This has proven to be one of the most essential elements that contribute to the effectiveness of a digital story. There is no substitute for using your own voice to tell your story. 

7. Soundtrack

 Properly employed music can enhance and underscore the accompanying story, adding complexity and depth to the narrative

We place addition of the soundtrack to the story at the end of the construction process for several reasons. When time becomes an issue, the story can be screened in a draft format without music, allowing this element to be added at a later date. Also, in some instances, students have successfully made the case for digital stories that rely on voice alone. This can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

It is important to address copyright when music is employed. Some sites such as the Creative Commons ( offer music that can be legally downloaded and used for educational applications. For example, the Magnatune record label ( offers a license that states “No paid license is required for non-commercial use.” Regardless of the source of the music employed, it is important to provide students with a lesson in music copyright in an era of file sharing.

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