Digital Storytelling in 6 Steps

As I write this, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like online programs are the only way for librarians to connect with their patrons. Digital storytelling is a creative way to engage patrons virtually right now — and as a bonus, you will learn some fantastic skills you can take back to your libraries when this is all over, for intergenerational workshops or homeschooling projects to improve digital literacy. So let's get started!

First off, what is a digital story? Digital storytelling is a multimedia process that usually involves pictures (still or moving), text, music and a recorded narrative to tell a story. The stories can be for any age audience, but I'm going to focus on a story created for (and partially by) children. Digital stories are usually 2 to 10 minutes long; for young children, shorter is usually better. They can be educational or just for fun. 

Here is a digital story I created with my family: a tale of a little carrot that gets left behind in the garden after harvest and wonders what will become of him.

I wrote the story and planned the panels, my eldest son and I made the artwork, a friend provided the music for me (make sure you aren't violating music copyright laws and only use music with permission!), and my family provided the voices in the story. I edited it using a free software, like Movie Maker (though other companies, like Adobe, often offer free trials of their online software as well).

Here are the steps to create a digital story of your own.

1. Make up your story

First off, you are going to have to come up with an original story, or you can use a well-known fairytale or myth. I prefer to make up my own narrative or use something in the public domain because then I don't have to worry about copyright issues. (While many authors have given permission to publicly read their stories during the pandemic and other librarians have argued that creating digital content for libraries falls under fair use, to me it isn't worth the risk.) Also, it's more fun and intellectually challenging to create original content!

If you're working with kids, have them write the story, each one contributing a part. I like to write the narrative like a play, with dialogue and different actors, but if you are alone you can write the whole thing as one long monologue, or play the different parts yourself.

2. Create storyboards

Once you have the story outlined, you can create storyboards of how each scene is going to be represented. This is where you have a chance to get really creative.

Figure out what each scene is going to look like, like the pages of a book, and then create them. You can use paper cutouts, like we did, or you can use Lego blocks, paint, clay, or pen and ink. The possibilities are endless! Look through illustrated picture books for inspiration.

You're probably going to want at least 10 panels to keep viewers' interest. Depending on your story, you might be able to reuse some panels and just change a few elements as the story progresses. Or you can use a felt board and have one fixed background and change the characters and props.

If you don't feel comfortable making art like this, you could also film your story as a play and dress up like the characters, or put on a puppet show. Do what makes you happy!

3. Photograph your storyboards

Now it is time to take photos of your creations and put them in order. Upload them to your movie editing software.

4. Record your narrative

Next you need to voice record your narrative. This is the trickiest part, in my opinion, because you'll need to line it up with the flow of the scenes.

It's easier to control the speed at which the pictures change in your editing software than slow down or speed up the voice recording, which will distort the sound. You may need to play with this a few times to get it right. This is where having a shorter story is helpful.

You can also record it in chunks and splice it together, but that takes a bit more skill and patience. The more people involved in reading the script, the more complicated (and sometimes funny!) this becomes.

5. Add finishing touches

For finishing touches you might add some text at the beginning and end with a title and credits. You can add music, like we did, or add subtitles so those who are unable to listen can read along. This makes it more accessible to everyone. (You could also post your typed-out narrative below the video when you share on YouTube or other social media outlets.)

This is also the time to get creative with your transitions from slide to slide. It's the same concept as designing a PowerPoint, which many library staff are intimately familiar with. The skills are very transferable.

6. Render and share

Now you can render the final product and post to your social media outlets! You are welcome to share our story: "Carrot's in a Pickle."

I hope you enjoyed this brief tutorial on digital storytelling. I can't wait to see what you've created.