Digital Storytelling on Instagram, Tumblr, Tik Tok and YouTube

Picture of keyboard, smartphone and pencil

Photo by Largo Polacsek at Pexels.

A couple of years ago, I created a module at Nottingham Trent University called Digital Storytelling. It is now a compulsory module and forms part of a ‘digital spine’ running through the B.A. Creative Writing. It encourages students to experiment with media platforms and consider how the narrative of their stories adjusts to the grammar of their chosen medium. Hopefully the module encourages students to think more broadly about outputs for their work and to be excited at the potential to create new forms of storytelling through innovation and experimentation.

Here’s a flavour of some of the work that was submitted this year.

Course Correction (Tumblr)

Screenshot of a branching narrative.

The Stanley Parable was the main source of inspiration for the Sci-Fi story, Course Correction, as Tom Combley and Sofia Bartram wanted to make their own rendition of the ‘disembodied voice that tells the player/reader where to go and then the player/reader can choose to listen to it’ – style story. The flowchart of their branching narrative is a reminder of how much planning goes into such projects.

Undead Sims (Sims)

Screenshot of Sims

Being sent to boarding school is daunting enough, but discovering it’s filled with vampires is even worse. Isabella Thompson spent ages creating Sims characters and then commanding them to do various things to get screenshots for her story. This was an arduous process, particularly when the Sims failed to do as instructed.

Resisting Royalty_ (Instagram)

Map of an Instagram account called Resisting Royalty.

Eloisa Herron has created a choose your own pathway story with ten possible outcomes on instagram. In some respects, this is a bit like flash fiction with each world concluding an event (rather than feeding into the whole). The worlds were created by AI which shows how this can be an aid to writers. But best of all is Eloisa’s use of all aspects of Instagram. The story reels are used to provide context and user information and panels are numbered to aid navigation.

Good Evening Madam (YouTube)

This short ‘film’ by Benjamin Windibank was made completely from digital assets, with AI programmes like Eleven Labs generating the voices and (dalle-e-2) generating images. The story addresses resistance from the perspective of an elderly woman who receives a scam email requesting money. It’s set back in the early days of the internet in the 1990s and so Ben downloaded UTM to imitate Windows XP.

Welcome to the Experience (Tik Tok)

Screenshots of Tik Tok story welcome to the experience.

Ellie Morrin explores the soporific effects of screen addiction in her Tik Tok ‘Welcome to the Experience’. The digital story includes some of her own artwork as well as video edited using Canva effects. This should be watched/listened to with earphones.

You can view these and other examples of digital storytelling on the Instagram account @Digitalstorytelling29821. Please get in contact if there’s stuff you’d like to share.

The Medium is the Message: What’s yours?

During his keynote speech at the 2010 Writing Industries Conference, Graham Joyce warned that writers would need to be more flexible if they wanted to carve a successful (paid) career as writers. The days of a large advance to pen your magnum opus were becoming more infrequent and so it was time to consider other formats and mediums such as mobile phones, gaming platforms and podcasts.

Fundamental to his call for versatility was technology and how this is radically transforming every aspect of lived experience. Fast forward eleven years and his advice has become more prescient. Social media platforms function as mini-publishing studios that can be monetised and immersive technology, such as augmented reality and A.I, are transforming how we tell and experience stories.

It’s with this in mind that I’ve been developing new modules at Nottingham Trent University to help equip emerging writers with the skills and knowledge needed to flourish in this ever-changing digital landscape.

One such module is Digital Storytelling, currently available to 2nd year Creative Writing students. This is very much built around experimentation, with students asked to adapt their story to fit the grammar of different platforms and mediums. It quickly becomes apparent that what works well as interactive fiction on Twine does not translate well to a visual medium like Instagram. Understanding the relationship between technology, audience and story is vital if you are going to produce engaging and innovative digital work.

Another benefit of this module is the practical skills it provides. The visual essay at the top of this article was produced using the Werner Moron ‘real-imaginary’ path (you’ll have to join the module to learn more about this method). The visuals were sourced from copyright free material and produced using free online tools. In creating a visual essay for YouTube, students learn to write a script, record audio, select images that reinforce the narrative, upload, tag, publish, share and promote. This provides a broad range of skills, all of which go some way towards helping them kickstart their digital writing careers.

The appeal of digital storytelling is the challenge of having to constantly adapt your writing to fit a medium. From interactive fiction on to Twitterature, each medium has its own form of constraint. A limited word count forces you to think carefully about what you want to say whereas interactive fiction places greater emphasis on the experience of the reader (user). Constraint is fundamental to creativity which is why I love jumping between mediums and platforms. It’s what maintains my motivation to write.

To see what other types of writing are going on in Nottingham and at Nottingham Trent University see

Further Reading