Category Archives: tips

How to use ‘swooping’ in your storytelling

I made a presentation to Cardiff Geek Speak this month about ‘swooping in storytelling‘ and they asked me to put my presentation online. I haven’t put the whole thing here but I have highlighted  out one section, which looks at some of the elements that make up…

A great story

 E.g. Walking with Maurice by Hanne Jones on the BBC Capture Wales website.

·         Starts with one incident and work out from that.

·         Has a clear point of view (Hanne’s was a personal take).

·         Makes you give a damn – I can’t define how to do this, but I did care for Hanne and her Granddad.

·         Has the stepping-stone-effect: when you reach the other bank you can see where you came from and how you got here.

·         Is told to be heard, not read.

·         Works well even without visuals; would be a great radio piece.

·         Is just long enough.


·         Plants mystery bombs (“I found my soulmate” – who is that?)

·         Explodes each mystery bomb, when it’s time (“Maurice is not just my special friend; he is also my Granddad.”)

·         Reveals surprises: “we take time to walk slowly”


·         Has swoops of scale: zooms the imagination out from a teardrop at the corner of an eye to a sweeping forest vista.

·         Has swoops of emotion: “cries when he’s happy … and when he’s sad”

·         May have swoops of time: Hanne aged 5, 15, 25, in the future, and then back again.

·         Sometimes has swoops of place: the forest, the garden swing, heaven …


·         Etc…

When the storyteller gets this swooping right, they can produce butterflies in the tummy of the person listening to their story. This kind of emotional response is what makes stories memorable and storytellers unforgettable.

Swooping in storytelling - Peregrine Falcon AlaS 01
Swooping in storytelling – photo by Paul Sullivan.


Originally written and published by Gareth Morlais on 27 June 2013

Running a personal storytelling workshop with a large group

This article is about running a storytelling workshop with a large group.

Canadian digital storyteller Kent Manning contacted Barrie Stephenson and I recently with a question: “I’m conducting a digital storytelling session next month for a group of 26 educators. I value the story circle part of the process as this is the way I was taught by the folks at CDS. Would you have any suggestions for conducting story circle time with such a large group? Would you have individuals share their stories with the large group? Small group sharing perhaps?”

Here’s what I suggest:

26 is a big group. You could either split it into three and hold three storycircles or here’s a suggestion that may help.

1. Pair people up and ask each to talk for two minutes about ‘the most remarkable day of my life’. Their partner takes notes and will relate their partner’s story in the next step.

2. Bring neighboring pairs together into six or seven groups of four. The tell each other’s stories of their big day to this small group.

3. Bring neighboring quads together into three groups of eight or so people for the Love/Hate game.

4. If you want one preparatory activity with all 26 together, Gilly Adams’s Match Game is the one I suggest.

5. Back to the three groups of eight will be the best way to develop the stories each participant intends to tell.

For other Story Circle activity ideas, see also this page with seven articles about helping people to capture their story in a digital storytelling workshop.


digital storytelling photo
Photo by Elijah

Kent got back in touch afterwards to say:

“I employed a couple of the strategies you mentioned at my DS session in New York City. The group was a close knit bunch and all had very good working relationships so small group interaction as you suggest below worked the best. And then we gathered as a larger group to talk about our stories.

The teachers came prepared to the workshop with story ideas and photos, so we used the morning as a writers workshop and most folks had a working draft by noon. It was at this point we started our conversations and story circles in depth.”

If you’ve worked with larger groups and have tips or experiences to share, feel free to use Comments.

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on 5 May 2013.

9 things digital storytellers can learn from Steven Moffat, Doctor Who & Sherlock writer

Here are some lessons digital storytellers can learn from Steven Moffat, based on advice he gave in an interview:

1. Imagine someone with their hat on, their coat half on, stepping out of the door. Make them say: “I’ll just keep watching until I find out what this is about”

2. Have a big whallop at the start.

3. Start with a promise of something you’re going to deliver

4. Surprise them

5. Try to think of a brand new idea.

6. Keep giving them reasons not to turn off

7. Try to make what you do appeal to _everybody_, then you’ve a chance of making it somebody’s favourite.

8. If you’re stuck for inspiration: stare out of the window, think of something and then write it down. Do that again.

9. “A good day is one when I _finish_ a script”

weeping angel photo
Photo by Lucid Nightmare

(source: notes I took at a conversation between Steven Moffat and Huw Edwards at a BBC Wales event on 19 June 2012)

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on  20 June 2012.

Digital storytelling admin

I’ve just been speaking on Facebook with south Wales digital storytelling and community video practitioner Sandra Anstiss. She’s venturing into the private sector making stories with owners, marketing staff, customers, etc. and she was asking members of the Facebook DS Working Group for advice about consents and copyright.
I’d say there are three or more issues here…
1. The stated consent of the storyteller and featured subjects;
2. Some form of evidence that any third-party assets are OK to use (other people’s pics, music, etc.); and
3. Something that says who owns the finished digital story entity.
Once these are established, it becomes possible to license the story’s re-publication elsewhere, either exclusively or – as in the case of Creative Commons – non-exclusively.
In terms of a project’s ethos, due consultation and consideration will need to be given to sensitivities around possible hurtful comments online etc. YouTube comments can be cruel.
I wish Sandra good luck with her new venture and – adding a disclaimer – I do emphasise I’m  not a lawyer, so it’s best to seek professional advice.
P.S. sorry for the really boring headline to this story
Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on 2 June 2012

Developing the one-hour digital storytelling form, with a video example

I’ve been piloting the one-hour digital storytelling form I want to present at the #storycamp get-together in Ludlow on Saturday (1 Oct 2011).

(If the embedded video won’t play, here’s a link to it on

Here are the ingredients:

– one object you can hold in your hand which is related to a place that’s special to you. Two photos are taken: the first is a close-up of the object or photo itself; the second photo is of you holding it.

– a personal story of fewer than 100 words or 45 seconds which you’ll record (tell or read) onto an mp3 file (via phone or voice recorder)

– a closing title: Place; by (name)

The form owes a lot to Capture Wales’ Shoebox Stories, developed mainly by Huw Davies, Lisa Heledd Jones and Carwyn Evans.

I used Windows Movie Maker to edit mine but any other video editing software will be fine.

The small print I want to declare is that it’s reasonable for the storyteller to make such a film in just one hour as long as the person making it has prior media-making experience – can take and upload a photo; has access to and knowledge of audio recording/editing tools; etc. Of course, working solely with people who already have these skills is missing the point of digital storytelling’s inclusiveness and up-skilling capacity. So perhaps it’s fairer if I say that these stories can be made in as little as one hour.

Finding the story in so little time is challenging. With only 100 words to play with, it’s difficult to bring out the personal impact above the factual matter which needs to be conveyed for the story to make sense. I’ll need to keep working on that aspect of the one-hour digital storytelling form…

That aside, making such a simple digital story can be comparatively straightforward, fun and quick.

How your own hand can help you find your story

Here’s an idea you can try at the story-origination phase of your next digital storytelling workshop.

Ask everyone to place their hand on a blank piece of paper and draw round it, kindergarten style.

Ask people to write a line on each digit, in response to this:

Little finger: what’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this year?

Ring finger: Looking further back in time, name one highlight of your life.

Middle finger: thinking of your family, what makes you most proud of being you? Did your grandfather have a fascinating job? Has your family made its mark in your town?

Index finger: pointing to the future, what would you like to achieve in the next five to ten years?

Thumb: what’s your philosophy in life? recipe for success? favorite saying?

In the case of someone who says: “I don’t have a story”, an exercise like this may help to suggest a theme for their personal story so they can script it or form it, record it and start making their digital story.
kindness - thumb

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on 16 June 2011

The secret of COW’s success – six lessons.

Half a million views across TV and online – I wrote about COW in my last post and, since then, I’ve been pondering: how come it did so well?

When I think about what made this film so successful, I’d say:

– the people who originated, developed and delivered the idea were the very people the film was aimed at. Lesson 1: consult and collaborate with your target audience

– it was a surprising subject which hadn’t had much coverage. Lesson 2: be fresh

– no punches were pulled in portraying the crash, so people who saw the film talked about it afterward. Lesson 3: be memorable

– the producer/director Peter befitted from many years of experience in the social action / public service field and he has strong interpersonal skills. Lesson 4: the key talent counts – that’s you.

– the ‘point’ of the film can be shown and grasped in one hard-hitting 30 second sequence. Lesson 5: build out from the point by adapting press-release and news story writing skills when making a fact-based short like this

– great title: COW. Lesson 6: choose a good title

That’s just half a dozen; if you want to add more, feel free to use the Comments.

Seven articles about helping participants capture their story in digital storytelling

The person who’s taught me more than anyone about helping people find their story is Gilly Adams. She was the main story facilitator of BBC Capture Wales and she shaped the Story Circle day so it was a close a fit as possible for the digital storyteller in Wales.

At DS3  in 2008, Gilly spoke in her keynote of the gift culture of digital storytelling “…where no money changes hands but the currency is the generosity of grace in sharing stories”. The person who hears the story gains two benefits:
1. they get a unique glimpse into the heart of the teller
2. they can often say: “hey, that’s about me!” and they get to reflect on that revelation.
An example of generosity Gilly gave was that of someone who comes to a DST workshop with a story in mind but, having heard the stories other people tell, they sometimes change their mind and say: “Actually, I want to tell you this…”.

Here are three links to articles written by Gilly for BBC Capture Wales guides: 1. Finding the Story; 2. Getting the Story Down on Paper; 3. Refining and Completing the Story

One of the funnest, quickest and most surprising story games Gilly introduced us to was The Match Game. I don’t know whether or not Gilly ever ‘wrote up’ the game, but here’s a link to my interpretation of her Match Game.

Another person who learned a lot from Gilly is Barrie Stevenson of Telling Lives. He has some useful guidance in Barrie’s freely-downloadable PDF which he wrote for BBC Raw.

On his blog, Barrie also recommends the first two chapters of KQED’s digital storytelling guide.

If you’d like to add your own suggestions, please use the comments below. I’m actually writing this post in response to  a comment by Becky Blab asking me to elaborate on step three of these six steps to sustainable digital storytelling project.

moving stories photo
Photo by Het Nieuwe Instituut

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on 15 February 2011. Because of the age of this article, not all of the links still work. But I’ve left them here so you can search on the Wayback Machine.

Six steps to a sustainable digital storytelling project

If you’re planning a digital storytelling project, and you want it to be a sustainable one, here are six steps to consider:

1. write an outline of the ethos your project will employ, encompassing:

* fair dealing with contributors and participants,
* contracting,
* intellectual property and  third-party rights,
* licensing-on the products your participants make,
* capturing and storing consents by parents/guardians/carers of minors and vulnerable people,
* diversity policy
* disclosure policy
* how to keep participants’ personal data safe,
* etc.

2. write a summary of all your storyteller recruitment methods. The difficulty of this isn’t to be underestimated, as this was an element that turned out to be one of the most challenging to us at Capture Wales

3. list ways of helping participants to express and capture their story as best as possible

4. outline  a number of possible production scenarios, either devised from scratch or drawing on models used by CDS, Capture Wales, etc.

5. develop exhibition plans – i.e. where will your finished stories be shown?

6. plans to share your methodologies, training and supporting trainers, forming and maintaining partnerships, ensuring other projects will benefit from your lead. Outline plans for robust governance, e.g. how a steering group for your project can develop this project even after you have moved on and left…

I hope that including these six elements within your work will help you plan your digital storytelling project so you can leave a sustainable legacy so other projects can benefit from your work.
Full credit is due to Gilly Adams  and Karen Lewis for stressing the importance of a stated ethos.

David Gunn

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on 8 January 2011, with some edits on 2 December 2017

Seven things to avoid when making a digital story

1. Telling your story in a straight line

2. Fancy video effects

3. A less than perfect voice recording

4. Corny visual cliches

5. Nothing but show and tell

6.  Twee rhyming poetry

7.  Using other people’s stuff

As you can see as you follow the links, I’m doing a little recycling here because the individual articles are reprised. But this is the first time I’ve laid these out as a Top 7 of digital storytelling tips.

If you find this Top 7 useful, tell other people by linking to it, re-tweeting or pasting the address into your Facebook update. And happy digital storytelling. Thanks.

Written and first published by Gareth Morlais on  13 July 2010.