Digital Storytelling

Steimatzky bookstore ad: shows a girl, asleep in her bed clutching the book Don Quixote, while Don Quixote sleeps beside her and Sancho Panza sleeps on the floor. Contains text: the right book will always keep you company.]

“We want to be immersed in something that’s not real at all.

Just like Don Quixote.” (Rose, 2011b)

Storytelling is a central part of human history and culture; it’s present in all known cultures worldwide (Rose, 2011a). We tell stories to explain our world, to entertain, to teach. Stories – be they oral, written, visual, or digital—have certain commonalities. All stories have elements of setting, plot, characters, and conflict (Appelcline, 2000). The best have a point, a purpose, but not necessarily a moral; a hook, a beginning that catches the audience’s attention; and a rhythm, tension and breaks that allow a reader to absorb the information given (Simon, 2009). Stories also typically follow some variation of Freytag’s Pyramid; i.e., the dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement.

Digital storytelling differs from traditional storytelling; not in the building blocks that make up the story, but in the way it is presented and created. According to Bryan Alexander, a leading figure in the study of digital storytelling, “[d]igital stories are narratives built from the stuff of cyberculture” (Alexander, 2011, p. 3). Digital stories are created using digital tools such as slideshows, video editors, social media, or game creation software, etc (Alexander, 2011, p. 29-43). Often digital storytelling is presented across multiple platforms, and can even tie into traditional medias—e.g. books, film, graphic novels (Center for Storytelling, 2010).

Of course tools like free video/audio editing software, such as Windows Live Movie Maker and Audacity, when paired with digital presentation methods like YouTube can allow anyone, anywhere to create a basic digital story. However, there are other tools that can facilitate creation as well—such as Novelty or Ren’Py, visual novel creators available for free online. Novel-game hybrids like Y;N, created with Ren’Py, allow stories to challenge readers to participate in unfolding the tale. These works are supported by online communities of artists that share their assets, collaborate, and help each other create.

DEVICE 6 ad: Silhouette of a man in a suit and bowler hat, flanked by text from the novel.

Similarly, DEVICE 6 is a novel-like game that allows the audience to “[r]ead, listen and peek into three-dimensional photographs to solve the bizarre mysteries of DEVICE 6” (Simogo). Text shifts to simulate walking down stairs, the story branches off depending on the reader’s choices, and puzzles must be overcome to move forward in the story. These are examples of audience participation being integral to the presentation of a story, and where the stories couldn’t be wholly recreated using traditional means of creation/presentation—such as printed or simple digital novels.

Other examples of audience participation influencing works are rooted in the immediacy that digital communication has permitted. Writers can now “pick the brains” of their intended audiences by setting polls or giving if/then scenarios and tailoring their work to suit as it is being written. Round-robin and live collaborative writing is possible even when writers are continents apart with the internet and media such as Twitter, instant messaging, and Google Docs—with challenges and twists thrown in by the audience, participants, or rivals.

Digital storytelling is essentially storytelling that utilizes digital media as part of its creation and/or presentation. What makes it unique from other modes of storytelling is its ability to be created by anyone and its interactivity; meaning, ready access for the general population to creation tools, and audience participation in the creation. What that means exactly is constantly evolving—the latest technologies and new ways to create content and even audience preference will influence the future of digital storytelling.



Alexander, B. (2011). The new digital storytelling: Creating narratives with new media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Appelcline, K. (2000). The elements of good storytelling. [Weblog] Retrieved from

Comberg, D. (2010, Oct. 30). Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories [Video file]. Retrieved from

Center for Storytelling (2010, July 1). Storytelling part 1: Change of storytelling [Video file]. Retrieved from

DEVICE 6 [Online image] (2013). Retrieved from

Rose, F. (2011a). The art of immersion: Why do we tell stories? Wired. Retrieved from

Rose, F. (2011b). The art of immersion excerpt: Fear of fiction. Wired. Retrieved from

Simogo (2013). DEVICE 6 [Website]. Simogo. Retrieved from

Simon, S. (2009, June 12). NPR’s Scott Simon: How to tell a story [Video file]. Retrieved from

Steimatzky Ad: Don Quixote [Online image]. (2013) Retrieved from