Writer’s Craft in Digital Spaces

I am an avid reader. I look for new texts written by favourite authors. I share books that leave a lasting memory. Great stories transform me. The craft of writing a great story is something I haven’t thought about much. A craft is often associated with hand-made, skilled trades. A craftsman is a “creator of great skill in the manual arts” (Visuwords). Connecting strings of words together to share a story, thought, inspiration, image is not something that comes easily. It’s a gift but it’s also hard work.

Books aren’t the only texts I read. I enjoy thought provoking and engaging magazine articles, research papers, or blog and twitter posts. Some are crafted to be casual and conversational, humourous and witty or deeply thoughtful. Every writer has a voice that is evident in the words they chose and how they shape images by strategically putting words together. I follow some blogs because of the writer’s craft in shaping my thinking and the emotional connections that are made.

This past week, I’ve been rethinking the writer’s craft in light of the digital nature of storytelling. My students have crafted unique and personally meaningful stories as part of the course work I assign.  The results are transformational. Students create engaging and compelling stories shaped not just with words but also with images, sound, and video. Creating a digital story is different than crafting a blog post or novel. Digital stories engage a reader who is also a viewer. The story is told using a wider variety of tools than only text.

Digital storytellers make endless choices as they create their stories. The vision of how to tell the story is as unique as the author. The story has to come first. Then comes the art and craftsmanship of shaping the digital experience. Digital stories are crafted using images to express ideas or concepts. Text is carefully selected in size, font, style, and placement on the screen. Sounds are strategically applied to shape emotional responses. Motion and transitions are selected to illustrate and enhance the story. Carefully mixing music and voice shapes the ‘readers’ experience. Pacing dictates the flow and feel of the story. The results are often magical, meaningful and emotional. Crafting a digital story is hard work.

I recognize the hard work my students put into their stories and respect their writer’s craft in digital spaces. The stories they create shape my view of their world, their experiences and their voice. Each story reveals something of the author. I’ve enjoyed viewing and ‘reading’ these stories over the past week. This year’s collection included stories about family, friends, life journeys, trips taken, and life altering events. Themes include personal growth, love, anxiety, depression, violence against women, fears, relationships, body image and the fulfillment of dreams. Memorable moments, of which there were many, include

  • Black screen with sounds of screeching tires followed by a video clip of a sonogram accompanied by the sound of a beating heart
  • video of a woman deep sea fishing followed by silence and a still image of the same woman with the words ‘she was killed by her husband’
  • image of a plate with an empty cupcake wrapper, two googly eyes and a speech bubble ‘RIP chocolate cupcake’

Words alone can’t describe the transformational effect digital stories have on their ‘readers’. But more importantly, words can’t describe the effect that crafting digital stories has on the authors. Their stories, carefully crafted for the intended audience, transform their understanding of self, relationship and purpose. Writing and crafting transforms both author and reader. And after all the hard work, isn’t that what the craft of writing is all about?

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