Joe Lambert (2013) and the StoryCenter want to creatively inspire storytellers through a group process they call story circles. In his chapter on Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling Practice, Lambert explains that during their 3-5 day workshops and through story circle engagement, clarifying questions are asked to aid the storyteller in their process of finding their unique voice. The purpose is to draw on deep, personal experience, feelings and understandings learned, all to help the storyteller to a place to “relive what the author experienced in time and place” (p. 54).
They do this through the Seven Elements, the fundamentals that make up good digital storytelling practice. I won’t go into detail about each on here, but will highlight three aspects of the elements that stood out to me and attempt to illustrate what they mean.
My first powerful takeaway comes from Owning Your Insights, which explains that a story isn’t just about the events that happen, but the unique and intimate glance into the life of the person living out the events—their reactions to the events and what they learned. Lambert used the example of a story he wrote about growing up in Texas where he learned about race relations.
Looking from the outside you could say this story was about his neighborhood and the pranks he and others pulled on another boy, Johnny Ramirez. But the scenes and wording he chose specifically guides the reader through a process of realization. Lambert went through a change, and it was less about jokes and teasing, and more about his participation in a racist drama that he didn’t agree with. Once Lambert realized what drove the story, this lesson he had learned, then this purpose made the path of the story clearer.
My second “Aha!” moment was found in the section on Owning Your Emotions and the understanding that the storyteller isn’t even aware of the emotional connection they have with the story. They can oftentimes begin with the events, move into the “meaning,” and end up tears as an unexpected emotion wells up in response to the mere act of speaking the truth of their lives. It’s like something inside them was buried deep and now brought to life, and they weren’t quite prepared for the feelings that came along with it.
Again, Lambert emphasizes that the event is a container for more meaning. For example, a wedding celebration can be more about “overcoming loneliness and facing new struggles in forging lasting partnerships, or grieving the loss of a loved one can also be about appreciating the wisdom that they have imparted” (p. 58). In the end, it’s finding a safe place for expressing emotions, as well as telling and listening to stories that is the goal of the story circle process.
My last powerful moment came with Seeing Your Story, and how the use of explicit and implicit imagery shapes how the audience interprets the story. The video above is a good example of this. In it, Pete’s Grill, becomes more than just a place to eat food, but a comforting mainstay that anchors and tracks the life of narrator, Kyle Little.
According to Lambert, explicit images set the scene and share the necessary details of a story. Whereas implicit images add another layer beyond the literal meaning of the picture, implying metaphorical ideas altogether. For example, a river can be more than a part of the topography, but represent the passage of time in a person’s life, prosperity, or cleansing and new beginnings. Choosing the images for our stories is a very deliberate process, and how we place them in the story along with the other elements “have the power to reveal something to the audience that words just can’t say (p. 63).
By the time I reached the end of this chapter, I felt more comfortable with Lambert’s suggestion to trust my own voice. The Seven Elements were clear and helpful, and most of all, inspiring. Armed with his advice, I know my own digital storytelling experience will be a positive (and less scary!) one.
Lambert, J. (2013). Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling (pp. 53-70). Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community. New York: Routledge.