Digital Story Telling: What, How, Listen

Digital Storytelling

Be warned, if your goal is to research how to podcast your short story then typing “digital story telling” in the task bar is going to be somewhat disheartening as its use as a either a marketing tool or a classroom activity takes the lead in search engine results. Advertising, television and gaming are so well established in our 21st century digital age that it’s not surprising that the media of choice for digital story telling is  overwhelmingly visual. However, with today’s baby boomers and their offspring taking up the fastest growing hobby of genealogy  (not to mention the impetus derived from the  publication of Alex Hayley’s “Roots” in the 1970’s) there is always room for new “players” in the form of story tellers who want to podcast their short stories.

The Best Digital Story Telling Quote

“…digital storytelling combines the best of two worlds: the “new world” of digitised video, photography and art, and the “old world” of telling stories.”

Dana Atchley

The heading for this segment was “The Best Digital Story Telling Quote” which of course led me to a slight detour as I investigated who Dana Atchley was. If, like me, you are of a mind to take a side road then take a look at the short video below of how Dana Atchley started his career as a digital story teller. Ignoring the fact that this presentation was an advertising/story telling presentation, the video footage that was used of Dana’s family could be a podcast for a simple, family history short story. Watch it twice. The second time with your eyes closed and you will hear how powerful and understated it is.

Digital Story Telling: Jim Jorstad

Advantages To Digital Storytelling

Although you may think that podcasting your story is far removed from this slick, bells and whistles presentation, remember, a story is visual even without the use of pictures. If you need proof of this, (without wading through all the supporting research) think back to when you read a book then watched the film version afterwards only to be hit over the head by the thought that they have made a huge mistake with the casting. The lead character was wrong. You know this to be true because you’ve read the book! (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, Little Women & Dr Zhivago come to mind for me) Creativity and imagination are also important tools for young children who will need to explore and navigate a future world that bears little resemblance to the one we know.

As adults, sharing our stories gives us permission to show our place in the past and a connection to our present. A good short story that engages the listener gives life to a static family tree. For those with memory deficits, family history in the form of short stories will give them a social connection that is priceless. Engaging in conversations is almost impossible if you are unable to remember recent past events. But, the first time they drove a car, flew in a plane or saw a bomb drop in the war will be vivid, engaging and definitely worth recording.

If you need convincing on the advantages of sharing your family history through stories you can read more here, “Be The Story Teller In Your Family”

Podcasting and Digital Story Telling

I wrote about the specifics of podcasting from a beginners point of view but if the very thought of starting a is one step too far why not use a family member. I started by reading and recording stories for my grand-daughter. She knew what I sounded like so I didn’t worry about how “weird” my voice sounded to me. I then progressed to sending a “Podcast Teaser” to my daughter who had never heard of Theophillus Adcock and wanted to know when she could expect the rest of the story!

Your digital story can be as simple as reading a story taken from the records of your Ancestry research (facts) or you can turn it into a amalgam of fact with a dash of poetic licence (fiction). At the end of this post you will find examples of both versions. There’s no denying my journey is still a work in progress but as the saying goes,

 “The longest journey starts with one step”!

What Do All The Best Short Stories Have?

What Makes A Good Digital, Short Story

I hasten to write that I am not setting up my first digital story telling effort as a “best” but it is the best of my skills at this point in time. I have used the guidelines below to flesh out a story that filled part of a small column in a local newspaper.

Announce Your Story With Pride

Crown Hotel Munford

* Set the scene: The village of Munford with its local hotel of long standing (circa 1650) is still in use today. With it’s long history I could add my own creative interpretations such as “smoke stained walls & “dark musty” corners.

*Back story: Because this is a “short” story establishing a “back story” has to happen quickly & succinctly. By adding a fictional comment, “like your father” the listener is alerted to the fact that Theophillus’s father had been to jail.

Not Theophillus Adcock!

*Characters: The #1 rule here is to turn your characters into real people. Your goal is to lull the listener into believing you know the characters as part of your family. If you have photo’s then the task is both simple & factual. In my case I was not that lucky which meant I had to use a little creativity based around his occupation as a watchmaker. I surmised he would have had to have good eyesight & be able to remain focused on the smaller details hence my “bright blue eyes” reference.When it comes to personal traits I knew by the census that even though Theo had 9 children  he “adopted” his grand-daughter as one of his own. From this I decided that he was not a “bad” person and would have friends who cared about him. Call it creative licence! I also used Google images to give me something to focus on and to establish a consistent, descriptive base line to write from.

(NB: Remember to use: Tools – Usage Rights – Labeled for Re-use to avoid copyright infringements for your Google images.)

Setting Up The Climax

*Who’s who in what’s to come: The Doctor, Ordinance Survey Team and the driver of the buggy who was also invited to be part of the scam.

*What: A card scam identified as “Brag” and easily researched via Wikipedia.

*Why: Obviously money was to be the reward but later research found Theo being evicted from his rental property on Boggers farm so desperation to keep a roof over his family’s head is a little more acceptable than gratuitous greed!

The Climax

*The Fight: As the records show we have the perfect example of good planning with poor execution. There were numerous comings and goings with Theo fighting all and sundry with apparent little regard for the fact that he was seriously outnumbered. It was the most difficult to write as it seemed almost too chaotic and farcical to be true. An image of the silent films and the keystone cops kept coming to mind as I wrote!

The Resolution

*The Court Case: Here we have the judgement and consequence followed by the dismissal of the counter claim by. Using the “4 free options” offer in the British Newspaper Archives I found the court transcript written up in the Norfolk Mercury Times. Having the unusual name of “Theophillus” proved to be a winner in the “search” box results!

A Future Hook

Follow The Money

Here is a question for you! What happened to the doctor’s money? It was last seen in the hands of Theophillus Adcock and never mentioned again. Then we have a witness who we are led to believe from the court records kept out of everything even when Theo had left and the rest of the men were talking outside his window. An unlikely scenario but if the judge didn’t see fit to question this I took it at face value. That is unless I find out anything to the contrary, in which case watch this space for another short story in which Theophillus Adcock is the main character.

The Evolution Of My Digital Short Story

The Teaser To The Short Story

Podcast Teaser With Music

The Dramatic Short Story

The Fight Scene
A Creative Approach To Family History Writing

The Court Reporter’s Short Story

The Card Players
Reading From Newspaper Article: Digital Short Story

Resources That Worked For Me

Stephen King On Writing: This is a personal memoir that takes the reader through the highs and lows of Stephen King’s path to successful author. What sets it apart from many other, “You Too Can Have Success Like Me” books, is that it by passes conventional wisdom and embraces his reality.

The Guilty by Sean Slater: You may have read that to become a “good writer’ you must read a lot of good books! But, I feel this statement is missing one important clarifier and that is, that you should also read a lot of bad books! The difference between them will then become the focus of your own writing (or what not to write) This particular book will fit into either camp depending entirely on your own personal taste. I have included it here because I was struck but it’s opening sentence.

“The bomb may have been set to go off in three hours, but the fuse had been lit nine years ago.”

Here we have a perfect example of how to set up a climax and back history in only 21 words. Now that is impressive!

Digital Story Telling

Podcasts: Until the birth of Warts and All I had never listened to a podcast. I remember listening to radio programs as a child but, with the advent of the digital age, this fell by the way side. My route to the world of podcasting was rather circuitous in that it came about through my house sitting activities. Setting the scene, the majority of my house sits involve exercising dogs. The larger the dogs the further I have to walk! I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I did try to “read & walk which failed (for obvious reasons). Switching to my mobile phone I hit the podcast button and found a never ending supply of recordings relating to ancestry research. I was hooked and, here I am, putting my toe in the water by Podcasting My Family History. The logic is obvious that if you need to read (a lot) to become a good writer then, to become a good podcaster, you need to listen (a lot). Luckily for me, Alice Fraser was my first family history podcaster I listened to. Strictly speaking she is a stand up comedian who presents her stories live. They are then presented in digital format for those of us who don’t have the opportunity to live shows. I have spent far too much time trying to decide which example to post but in the end I chose one that I felt most family historians would be grateful to find among a dusty box of old photographs. The warm up song & false starts are all part of setting the scene & back story so keep listening until 3′.11 secs when her family history comes to life.

Family History by Alice Fraser

The Moth: Once again I found this site without even trying. I had just reading a book also called The Moth and, one sleepless night, I was listening to the radio when an introduction to The Moth Podcasts was announced. What followed was so interesting that I forgot my intention to listen to something that was boring enough to put me to sleep! For a would be podcasting story teller I had found a never ending supply of family histories to use as exemplars for my future short stories. Paul Doran’s story was one in particular that touched a nerve as it tells the story of how a son found out his father’s history after he (the father) had died. My own father has a WW2 history that has yet to be uncovered but one that I’m sure will shed some light on his post war relationships with his family: viz me!

Bloody Sunday by Paul Doran


Behind anything I write for this family history blog has always been the proviso that it is about my personal family! If I haven’t done it then I don’t write about it. My learning curve has been slow and steady and perhaps, for most bloggers, many of my posts may seem to be stating the obvious. Keeping in mind my blog started as a personal writing history I found that writing about how my blog posts, podcasts, scrapbooking, slideshows and organization of material evolved gave me clarity and also highlighted missing pieces. If it does the same for you then that is an added bonus!

Warts and All Supporting Posts

Writing Your Family History & Interviewing Tips

How A Story Teller Becomes A Podcaster

Story Teller: Listen To Me

Story Telling Podcasts

Be The Storyteller In Your Family

One thought on “Digital Story Telling: What, How, Listen

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: