A Beginner’s Guide to Online Storytelling
Do you have a personal story to share?
Would you like to preserve memories through online storytelling?
Want to remember a loved one online?
“To be a person is to have a story to tell.”
– Isak Dinesen
The art of storytelling is universal. Every person and every family has a unique story to share… a story that has defined who they are and who they have become… a story that has influenced family members (either consciously or subconsciously) for many years. Preserving your memories with online storytelling is one of the best ways to share your personal or family history. In this article, we’ll cover some creative solutions for online storytelling.
Hundreds of years ago, families relied on the oral tradition of storytelling as the main way to pass on family history, ideology, wisdom, and values. Over time, oral storytelling was enhanced by the written word. And as technology progressed, we added photographs, video, and audio recordings to the number of ways to tell a story.
When Should You Start Your Family Story?
There is no best time to begin online or multimedia storytelling. In fact, any time is the right time. If possible, you may want to begin the recording and telling of your family story before a loved one passes away or begins suffering from mental decline—especially a loved one who has a wealth of information. But if you didn’t think of writing your family story until later, that’s OK. Just start where you’re at and move forward with as much information as you can gather.
Most importantly, never think that it’s too late to start recording your family history. Even if someone passes away with a lot of family history stored in his/her brain, there’s still a lot of information out there that, when written down or recorded, can be of help or meaning to someone else.
How to Include Family Members in Telling Your Story
Should you include family members in the telling or your personal story or your family story? Think about this… You may know a lot about your family, but you probably don’t know everything. And even if you do know most everything, you have only experienced that knowledge from your own personal perspective. So, it would most likely be advantageous to include the knowledge and perspective of other family members when creating a personal or family legacy. In addition, creating a history of your family or a loved one can help you and others work through personal grief.
First, you’ll want to let other family members know what you are doing. What’s the best way to communicate with your family members? Is it best to communicate by email? Or is there an upcoming family gathering where you can let everyone know in person? The choice is yours. Whether you are letting family members know in writing or in person, take time to think about what you want to say.
Inform your family members that you are getting ready to record and preserve your history, a loved one’s history or your family history. Let your family know why you are taking on this project. What is your goal or purpose? Why is it important to you? Tell them if you have a specific timeline in mind to complete the project. (Your deadline may or may not be time sensitive.)
Finally, invite your family members to take part in the project as well. Some family members may be wary at first. Perhaps they may think that you’re going to reveal family secrets, embarrassing details, or write about specific people. The more clear and open you can be from the beginning, the more at ease your family will feel and the more willing they will be to take part in your project.
Find ways that family members can get involved. Perhaps someone in your family is an avid photographer and they’ve amassed many pictures over the years. Perhaps some family members keep a journal or diary. So, they can be relied upon for factual details or lost memories. Older family members can recall some of the oldest tales as well as stories about some family members who have already passed away.
How Online Storytelling Strengthens Family Relationships
Family stories bring generations together. And family books are filled with special memories. You can use online storytelling as a way to create new bonds and strengthen already existing bonds within your family.
Through group participation in the project, you will invite different perspectives on your family history. You will learn about your family from others’ points of view. And you most likely learn things about your family—and maybe even yourself—that you never knew before.
Creating a family narrative also improves a sense of belonging. By sharing the life and experience of others as well as their wisdom, beliefs, experiences, and values, you create a stronger bond between family members. When you give family members that chance to participate and provide input in the telling of your family history, they will feel that they are being heard, that their input and opinions matter, and they will ultimately feel valued.
Your family narrative project may also spark an unexpected outcome. You just might instill a love of storytelling, history, writing or reading in another family member. Studies have shown that children who read and write often perform better in school. Plus, the more children know about their family history, the more long-lasting, beneficial effects it can have: a broader experience of the world, higher self-esteem and confidence, stronger emotional literacy, and a greater sense of control over their own lives.
Options for Formatting Online Storytelling
When considering online storytelling techniques, you’ll first want to consider your target audience. Who is your audience? And how will they enjoy experiencing the story of your family? Depending on your family members, you may want to consider creating your family story in several formats. Older family members may prefer a printed version, while younger family members and future descendants may appreciate a more visual, online version. If this is the case with your family, you may want to learn any preferences first.
Creating an online version of your family history may be one of the best ways to create a lasting legacy for your family or to remember a loved one. Online storytelling can also be a way to maintain a more permanent version without worry of being lost, misplaced or damaged in a flood, fire, storm or other disaster. In today’s self-publishing world, both online and offline, there are many modern options when it comes to telling a story. The best online storytelling experiences merge a combination of valuable content, eye-catching design, an interactive format, and convenient and accessible functionality.
There are many creative ways to use online storytelling to remember a loved one. Many businesses use creative online storytelling techniques as part of their content marketing or brand story. These same solutions can be used to tell your story as well. Some common elements found in innovative digital storytelling include the following:
- Beautiful and unique page layouts
- Scrolling experience
- Rich content
- Decluttered pages (enough white space)
- Sidebars for content
- Large pictures
- Irregular margins (not always left justified)
- No ads
- Attractive typography
- Enhancing graphics
- Animation (or the feeling of movement, such as zooming in and out of still shots)
- Social media posts
- Video posts
- And more
In addition, there are a number of ways that stories can be told. You may want to focus on one, a few or a combination of several of the following authentic online forms of storytelling.
- Journal entries
- Field reports
- Single point of view
- Multiple points of view
- Recorded conversations
Storytelling Through Pictures
With the advent of Instagram, Snapchat, and other photo-dominant social media outlets, you may be more familiar with photo storytelling. Many photographers use their pictures as a way to tell a story. And many people have been learning to do the same thing. You can tell a story chronologically with photos, use several photos taken in succession of a moment in time or piece together photos taken of an event from different angles.
When selecting photos, look for the pictures that show the details, not just the subject matter. What’s happening around the person? What objects or people are also in the picture? And how do those details add to the overall story? And don’t forget to narrow down your pictures to just the most important shots.
Storytelling Through Letters and Journal Entries
Although print may be falling by the wayside, there are some stories best told through print. Documents, such as letters and diaries or journal entries, are examples of the power of storytelling. Why? Because people often express their deepest sentiments in writing, whether just to themselves in a diary or journal format or to someone who means enough to prompt picking up a pen/pencil and paper.
In the days before email and text messaging, letters were a vital form of communication. And today, handwritten letters perhaps have even more important meaning and significance. That’s because texting and other online communication is so quick, easy, immediate, and easily accessible that taking the time to sit down and physically write a letter to someone requires more thought, energy, and time in a faster-paced society. So, you can be assured that when something is expressed in written form, it was certainly important (at least to the writer).
Some storytellers use correspondence as the entire text of their story, while others will intersperse these documents into the overall story narrative. How heavily you rely on this form of storytelling is up to you. However, if you have a lot of historical written correspondence available to you, don’t underestimate the value of these gems.
Storytelling Through Video and Audio
As humans, storytelling is in our blood. Perhaps it’s because our brains become most active when telling and listening to stories. Through time, we have found more innovative ways to tell our stories, including visual storytelling. However, nothing makes more of an emotional impact than seeing a person’s image or hearing a person’s voice express their own experiences, beliefs, wisdom, values, and more.
Advances in technology have made it easier today than ever before for anyone and everyone to tell their story—and authentically and emotionally connect with friends and audiences. We have social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and more options, to upload photos and videos enhanced with text and graphics to tell your story. Facebook and Instagram have also introduced Stories to make your storytelling more immediate and interactive. And if that weren’t enough, you can share your life story live for your followers to see, allowing them to experience life right along with you in real time.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but audio and video may be worth millions in terms of emotional currency. Audio storytelling includes podcasts, documentaries, personal narratives, field recordings, historical portraits, and more. Just as with book reading, when a listener hears an audio recording, they can create a representation of the particular world that is unique to them and their imagination.
When using audio or video, keep your audience’s attention span in mind. You may want to keep your clips between 30 seconds and two minutes for optimal attention spans. It’s also important to know when to begin and end video and audio clips. The first five seconds are essential; in those first few seconds, you’ll want to give the audience a reason to listen and a clue as to what they’re about to learn. In these first few seconds, a person decides whether to listen in or tune out. In addition, you want to be sure to end on a strong note. Don’t let the person or story trail off.
Note: Before using any audio, video or written documents in your online storytelling, be sure to obtain written permission from the owner. This includes any images, words, music, or other copyrighted works.