“Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community” by Joe Lambert with Brooke Hessler

If you’re starting a collection of books on digital storytelling, Joe Lambert’s “Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Boundaries” should be one of the first you add. It serves as an excellent reference for ideas, techniques, prompts, and examples. Not only that, but reading it from start to finish offers a comprehensive background of where StoryCenter’s brand of digital storytelling comes from and how it has evolved.

I picked up this latest edition because a quick glance at the table of contents suggested that Lambert has updated it with some needed attention to rapidly evolving storytelling tools and digital contexts. Personally, I think this new edition is significantly more useful and prescient than the previous edition. Here’s a quick list of the chapters:

  • The Work of Story
  • Stories of Our Lives
  • A Road Traveled: The Evolution of the Digital Storytelling Practice
  • The World of Digital Storytelling
  • Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling
  • The Story Circle
  • To Students: Getting Started in Digital Story Work: Mindsets and Methods
  • Approaches to the Scripting Process: Prompts and Processes
  • The Walking Story Circle: Rethinking Digital Storytelling in the Era of Mobile Devices
  • Storyboarding
  • Designing in Digital: Working With Digital Imaging, Audio, and Video
  • Distribution, Ethics, and the Politics of Engagement
  • Applications of Digital Storytelling
  • Silence Speaks: Interview with Amy Hill
  • Listening to Change: Stories From Alaska’s Native Health Communities: Interview with Laura Revels
  • Humanizing Healthcare: A Conversation with Dr. Pip Hardy and Tony Sumner
  • Transforming Education Through Story Work: A Conversation with Dr. Brooke Hessler

I should preface some of my comments by reminding you that part of Stories21’s mission is to support individual storytellers outside the context of face-to-face workshops. As such, not all of these chapters will be immediately relevant to you as an individual storyteller. That said, there are more than enough brilliant chapters to make this an essential resource.

If you’ve attended one of StoryCenter’s workshops, you will probably find some of the material of the earlier chapters familiar. Even so, Lambert’s book offers a much more coherent and tightly packed explanation for that material. It’s also important to remember that because of the condensed nature of the face-to-face workshops, participants are limited to a single approach to any given composing strategy. And given the speed and intensity of those workshops, participants rarely have adequate time to reflect much on the process.

Personally, I have found the chapters on scripting, storyboarding, and composing to be the most useful. Lambert covers a variety of approaches while offering some of the benefits and challenges of each.

As a storyteller and a facilitator, one of the most challenging topics to think through on my own has been the ethics and politics of storytelling. Lambert’s exploration and reflection on this aspect of the process are invaluable.

Central to the organization of this book is that it focuses almost exclusively on StoryCenter’s model of story work. Which is great. It’s a capable and versatile model. It’s a practice that works. For individuals, organizations, students, and schools. StoryCenter has been around a long time. They’ve worked with tens of thousands of participants. And there’s no organization on the planet that has more institutional knowledge about digital storytelling than StoryCenter. I. Love. StoryCenter. (And this book.)

On the other hand, part of my mission for Stories21 is to begin to expand the notion of what digital stories can be and what sorts of work they can do. I want to follow the work already being done by brilliant storytellers to push into adjacent genres like memoir, documentary, essay, commentary, fiction, creative nonfiction, and other even more experimental forms. Lambert’s book is clearly bounded short of those pursuits. And that is one of its strengths. The book focuses on a particular notion of digital storytelling and thoroughly explores and develops that part of the storytelling landscape. If you want to create the types of stories StoryCenter helps facilitate, there is no book more important to your collection. And if you’re interested in pushing the boundaries of form and genre a bit, let this book be your starting point, get to know it, and start experimenting from there.



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