Step 1: Decide on the Story You Want to Tell
You probably already have a person or subject in mind. Think small. Focus. Don't get caught up trying to convey all the aspects of someone's life — you're not writing the great American novel, you're creating what will optimally be a three- to five-minute work that recounts a personal tale and reveals a small truth.
What form should your story take? In their decade of leading workshops, Lambert and Mullen list these main varieties of digital stories:
- The story about someone important. Character stories center on a person who's touched you in a deep way. Often, these stories reveal as much about the narrator as about the subject of the piece. Memorial stories pay tribute to someone who passed on but left a lasting impression.
- The story about an event in your life. Travel stories — stories about a personal journey or passage — can be effective if they result in the narrator being transformed by the experience in some way. Accomplishment stories about achieving a goal, graduating from school, or winning an honor can easily fit into the framework of the desire-struggle-realization structure of a classic story.
- The story about a place in your life. Our sense of place serves as the focal point of a great many profound stories.
- The story about what I do. People find value in their work, hobbies, or social commitments and can weave wonderful stories from their experiences in each.
- Recovery stories. Sharing the experience of overcoming a tragedy, challenge, or personal obstacle is an archetype that always has the potential to move audiences.
- Love stories. We all want to know how someone proposed, met a spouse, experienced the birth of a first child, or came to terms with a parent. Exploring these kinds of relationships helps affirm our own.
- Discovery stories. These stories probe how we uncovered a truth or learned how to do something.
Now, choose one type of story that appeals to you.
Step 2: Gather Your Materials
Start collecting memories. The most powerful images are often discovered during a treasure hunt in the family attic. Start gathering old photos, vintage film reels, digital video, flyers, mementos — anything that holds emotional resonance. Don't think you have to go out and visually capture a story with a camcorder or camera. Use what you have! Older "found materials" usually prove to pack more of an emotional wallop than new footage.
Step 3: Begin Writing Your Script
Next, start jotting down ideas. Discuss your ideas with family and friends. Play out a rough story in your head.
Sketch out a script that you'll soon record with your own voice. Resist the temptation to take the easy way out and create a story with only images and music. People want to hear a personal voice. Don't be self-conscious about how your voice sounds; we all think we sound odd on tape.
Draft a short script. That's where many people get bogged down. Get past the fear of committing words to paper. Some tips:
- Get personal. Forget everything you've been taught about using a dispassionate, authoritative, essay-like voice. This isn't an essay contest. People want to hear your voice. The story must be told from your point of view.
- Write lousy first drafts. Don't edit as you go. Editing and writing use different parts of the brain. Let it spill out. Get the main elements of your story down on paper, then go back and edit later.
- Write short. You'll be surprised at how much you can convey with a few words and some key images.
- Read your script aloud as you're fine-tuning it. Eschew big, fancy words (like "eschew"); use plain speech.
- Don't hold back. Be real. You need to reach an emotional depth, and sometimes that can only be achieved by revealing uncomfortable truths. Ultimately, however, it's up to you to make a profoundly personal decision about what material you want to share — and with whom.
- Look for a narrative arc for your story. All stories — even three-minute gems — have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning tells the premise of your story: it sets up the dramatic tension that should hold throughout the story. The middle outlines conflicts along the way. The end is the destination, revealing a small discovery, revelation, or insight. This is sometimes called the desire-action-realization model. (But not by anyone we know!) Will the guy get the girl? Will the hero prevail? Will the sleuth solve the mystery? With a three-minute script, you don't have time to indulge detours. Get to the payoff.
- Work on the pace. Many consider pacing to be the true secret of successful storytelling. The rhythm and tempo of a story is what sustains an audience's interest. Experiment. Lambert and Mullen write, "Good stories breathe. They move along generally at an even pace, but once in a while they stop. They take a deep breath and proceed."
- Trust your voice. All of us have our own distinctive style of storytelling. Trust yours.
- Read your script to a friend when you think you've finished. Very often, your confidant will point out glaring omissions, help firm up the language of a passage, or help you identify your true voice.