The Recipe of a CDS Story

In this blog post, I’ll share my thoughts on the structure of the Center for Digital Storytelling videos before and after reading the “cookbook” on the main site.

Initial Thoughts

These stories are all very different, with subjects ranging from cancer to alcoholism to sofas, but they all have certain things in common. They’re all about struggle, change, and recovery in some way.

The stories are narrated by one person, and they often start with some background information – what it was like growing up in Chicago, farming with family members, fleeing a homeland, arriving in Toronto, etc. Then, the narrator talks about a struggle of some kind – battling cancer or alcoholism, fighting prejudices in school, being an immigrant, abusive parents, gender identity issues, homelessness, death of a loved one, being an outsider.

The thread that ties all these stories together is the fact that they’re telling their story for a specific reason, to help others who might be going through the same struggles or even to help themselves cope and heal. They’ve all been affected dramatically by what they went through and are using their stories for the greater good. Whether it was through personal reflection, or the love of a great social worker, coach, or teacher, all these people have found ways to deal with their past and use it for some future good. They’ve become advocates, teachers, musicians, future policemen, and public speakers.

If these videos were given a formula or a recipe, it would look something like this.

-journey or life-changing event
-recovery or acceptance

Mix in photos and videos, add music, and narrate the story in a concise, yet meaningful manner.


After Reading the Cookbook

I think that what I noticed initially were the things that go into a story like this, but I didn’t think enough about how exactly these elements are put together to create an effective story.

These stories are about some pretty profound things. How do you fit a lifetime struggle with alcoholism, for example, into a 3 minute video? All I saw were the end results, but the process behind it must have been difficult, and reading the cookbook made me realize that finding the story is more important than telling it. A small idea can go a long way, especially in making a video this short. That’s why most of these stories focused on a single episode that related to the larger issues.

I also realize that there are different ways we tell different stories. A story of an event is told differently than a story about a character, for instance, and it’s important to realize the kind of story you’re telling before you actually tell it. What details are important? How should the order be put together? What visuals (pictures, videos, text) will be most effective to get the message across?

Overall, the effect of these stories seemed pretty easy to figure out. They were inspiring, emotional, and very riveting. But what I didn’t realize was all the work that goes into making even a short presentation like that, and how hard it must have been. A video might be 3 minutes long, but the work behind composing it probably takes hours of careful thought and consideration.

-Julie Howell


~ by juliehowell on February 14, 2011.

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