How digital storytelling differs from traditional storytelling

Rediscovering the narrator

Traditional storytelling involves a narrator transmitting a fixed story to an audience of one or more, employing various verbal tones, physical gestures, and facial expressions to evoke reactions and participation from the audience. This process is anchored in the reality that the story’s basic structure never changes.

Digital storytelling, however, omits the need to stick to one narrator, meaning that several narrators can step onstage simultaneously, exerting their influence through responses, comments, continuations, alternative stories, and various other means. In short, the barrier between storyteller and listener is no longer an impermeable one.

There is no set conclusion

In circumstances where feedback is solicited through a “comments” section, the responses typically begin with commentary on the original story, though a discussion often ensues where comments are made regarding other comments. Given the way this allows users to question the final conclusions of the story, it can be said that it allows users to alter story endings or create their own; stories are always left with an open conclusion.

Stimulate all five senses

In the storytelling transmitted through text or oral expression, the narrative’s original storyline has always been the focus. In digital storytelling, however, while the narrative is certainly an important element, music, sound effects, images, visual aesthetics also play a key role; even our sense of smell is likely going to be included in the near future.

The never-ending links of a story

No single factor plays the ultimate, dominant role in digital storytelling. Images enliven the narrative, the narrative calls for a certain song or visual effect, and that song or effect in turn inspires new narratives. Such a process can even be seen in the ancient Greek story of the Trojan War, whose episodes expanded and fluctuated from orator to orator, with individual variations spawning new narratives altogether that eventually formed the saga we know today.

Although centered around the motif of the actual events of the Trojan War, the narrative itself underwent countless transformations. The producers and consumers of the saga are difficult to differentiate, and the story changes according to the personal experiences of the orator. In a way, this endless cycle of variation and recreation is what unites oral literature with digital storytelling.

Digital storytelling is much more integrative than traditional storytelling, incorporating non-linguistic elements that spawn new narratives. Images, visual and audio effects are not just augmentations to the story but are an integral and inseparable part of it, meaning that variety, multi-sensory stimulation, and multiple media channels are a must in digital storytelling.

Please share if you can come up with examples. Example: a traditional children’s book re-envisaged for digital audiences on TV or film.

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This article is from the free online course:

Transmedia Storytelling

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)