10 Tips for Crafting a Good Digital Story

Guest post by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson.

Jennifer Ahern-Dodson is a Lecturer in Writing Studies and Director of Outreach for the Thompson Writing Program. She teaches digital storytelling in Writing 101 courses.

Frosh Life. So you want to make a movie about your experience as first-year students. Where should you begin? How do you tell your story? Here are some strategies for generating topics and writing an engaging story.

  • Make it personal. What has your experience at Duke been like this year? What has surprised you the most? How has Duke changed how you think about something? To help you jump start your thinking, try writing a “top 15 list”—five things that surprised you this year/ five things that you wish you could change / five things that Duke has made you think about.
  • Be specific. Choose just one story to help illustrate your Duke experience. If you want to tell a story about friendship . . .   what does it look like?  Use details to help your audience see what you see, to understand what you experienced.  (“Show; don’t tell”).  Here, Meredith tells a powerful story about the last meal she cooked for her grandfather, using vivid details and imagery to recreate the scene for us. “Food for Thought”:

  • Focus your story on one take-home message for greater impact. Make one point and make it well.
  • Be who you are. Show us your personality. Here, Sheridan shows her Aussie side. “Down Under”

  • Keep it short.  When paced well, a 100 word script typically makes a 2 minute video.
  • Include dramatic tension. Something should happen in the story. Make it more than a Duke postcard or a summary of an experience you’ve had.
  • Start strong. Include a hook to pull viewers in and get them wanting more. Consider these examples from first-year student stories
    • I remember the look on my parents’ faces when they told me I had cancer.
    • I am a contradiction.
    • Three times every week, I ask myself why I am awake before dawn for Chemistry.
    • Sometimes I feel like a product on an assembly line leading to nowhere.
  • Write your script first. Without a good story, the images or music won’t really matter.
  • Get feedback. Read your story. To your friends. Out loud.
  • End well.  Avoid the clichéd or predictable ending (“work hard; play hard”). Ending strong sometimes means you leave the ending open. Here, Imani leaves us wondering about her next move (LINK) : Degree to Nowhere:




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