Digital Storytelling

A person sitting at a table with a computer

ENGL 334-001 / MW 13:00-14:15 / HLG 321

Pr. John Laudun / HLG 356 /


Digital storytelling uses all the possibilities of digital media — text, images, audio, video — to communicate effectively and, most importantly, meaningfully with audiences. It combines the art of traditional storytelling with the tools of modern technology, allowing individuals to share their experiences and ideas with a wider audience. While a lot of materials and tutorials focus on the technology, in this course we will focus on what matters, the story. What makes for a good story? How do stories work? What can we learn from thousands of years of storytelling, and how can we adapt all these things we know about how our brains work and how ideas are embedded in texts in order to tell a story that our audience cannot stop listening to, reading, watching, playing, experiencing?

This course explores all the fundamentals of storytelling and surveys some of the varieties of media production (e.g., micro-blogging, long form writing, audio, video, games). By the course’s end, students have designed and produced a variety of stories and published them on sites of their choosing and design. Course features include guest lectures (including storytellers), exploration of generative text AI, as well as the usual readings and viewings that make up a university course.


In taking this course, participants will become familiar with the basic structures of narrative (both cognitive and formal) and have some experience in using those structures, or their knowledge of them, to produce meaningful texts of their own. Participants will also explore publishing options and will pursue at least a few of those options. More particularly, this course makes it possible for participants to:

Readings & Supplies

The readings in so far as it is possible will be available online. There may be a book or two to purchase, but they will not be textbooks (and come with textbook prices). Course participants will need to have a smart phone, or a similar way of capturing audio and video, and a computer on which to read, write, and edit. (The university licenses Microsoft Office for you, and your computer should be able to run the lightweight video editing software that comes with most computers these days and audio editing software like Audacity.) Participants will also need pen or pencil and paper (looseleaf or pad). Bring these to every meeting. Leave your phone and your computer in your bag or pack unless otherwise instructed. (See The Fine Print below for more about notetaking.)


The course assumes that participants are self-motivated and willing to experiment, and to fail. Failing at something is success. Failing to try is failure. If you do not understand an assignment, ask. Ask a peer or ask me. There are a lot moving parts to this course: publishing in some fashion on the web, writing, making audio, making video, sketching out a game. With today’s smart phones and computers, you have access to all the hardware and software you need to do not only basic but also outstanding work. The only limitation is your willingness to try, to take a risk.

That noted, this course is built around participants producing things. We can call those things texts, and they can take the form of written stories, or they can be realized in audio, video, dramatic presentation, scripted interactive game play (either live or through a board or video game).

By the end of the semester, you will have published at least ten such productions. From those ten, you will select the five best as your portfolio to be assessed by me (and perhaps your peers — we’ll see how that goes). The portfolio must contain at least three written texts and two non-written productions (audio, video, game, mystery). [Please note that any and all mysteries must be approved by my in advance of portfolio submission.]

Participation (70%) includes being active in class (20%) and doing in-class assignments and submitting out-of-class assignments on time (the other 50%).

Portfolio (30%) includes the five productions described above along with a cover essay in which you state your understanding of stories and storytelling and explain how your portfolio either exemplifies that vision or fails to do so. (That is, you can be disappointed in your portfolio and still do well: this is a university class; it’s about learning.)

To make assembling your portfolios and writing your portfolio statement more clear, here is a description of how I will be approaching assigning portfolio grades. That is, here’s a rubric:

Sub-par portfolios simply throw five outputs together with little to no revision and little to no thought of how they either fit together or how they demonstrate a diversity of approaches. The portfolio statement offers no synthesis of the outputs—indeed it references seldom or not at all—and its vision of storytelling is hackneyed, paying little attention to the elements of narrative discussed early in the course nor to any of the other course materials.

Average portfolios have some sense of why these five outputs are chosen, but it isn’t terribly clear to the audience. The portfolio statement offers some clarification, but the synthesis wanders through a series of claims, none of which reference either the documents in the portfolio nor any of the course materials.

Remarkable portfolios have five outputs that clearly either belong together or clearly represent a diversity of storytelling options. This clarity is reinforced by a portfolio statement that offers a clear sense of what the producer thinks storytelling is about and that sense is made clear by referencs to course materials and to moments in the portfolio itself.

Careful readers of these descriptions will note that the portfolio statement should offer something like a thesis as well as something like evidence for any claim(s) made in the form of references to course materials, including lectures and discussions, and portfolio items. Does this mean you can quote yourself? Yes, it does, but do it well and with a purpose.

For more about expectations, see The Fine Print below.


unit 1

Week 1: What it’s all about

All the usual things on the first day, including some participant interaction focused on defining things like “stories” and “narrative.” Homework includes determining the venue for the course (e.g., GitHub pages, Medium, etc.). Read for Wednesday: “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Week 2: Themes & Variations

Everyone loves a good mystery.

Week 3: Why tell stories?

With introductions, warm-ups, and even a break behind us, we push for real with a consideration of how storytelling currently figures in the “marketplace of ideas.” What are people saying? Why do they care? How does this affect what you want to be able to do? Read Arguelles and watch the video at the end of the essay. Then read “Genius Storytelling Examples” and watch the Sagmeister video.

Arguelles, Carlos. 2021. The Importance of Story-Telling in Software Engineering: Amazon’s Cult of the 6-pager: why narrative matters. Geek Culture, Nov 23.

Week 4 (S18/20): What is a narrative?

We begin the week with a focused consideration of the four dimensions of narrative. Read Herman. We then proceed to apply Herman’s rubric, for lack of a better word, to a series of examples. Homework: everyone is responsible for bringing in a text that challenges our abilities to discern whether, what, how it is a narrative.

Week 5: The Shape(s) of Story

The beginning, middle, and end. Freitag’s pyramid. The hero’s journey, Dan Harmon’s story circle, Kurt Vonnegut’s “man in the hole.” So many shapes? What do they tell us about stories? What can we learn from the efforts of others to take a thing which represents events unfolding across time by unfolding across time and making it unto a shape, something time does not have? (Unless you’re talking about the fabric of space-time, in which case I need you to explain gravity to me one more time….)

There’s a lot here to take in, so brace yourself:

Read MasterClass’ “How to Write Story Plot: Tips, Tricks, and Margaret Atwood’s Writing Prompts” (URL).

Week 6

Read: Labov and Waletzky 1967. Assignment:

  1. Write a story about a traumatic event that happened in your life.

  2. Markup the worksheets on free and narrative clauses.

  3. Re-write your story on a separate piece of paper as a series of clauses. Number the clauses and then mark each one as free or narrative, being sure to indicate where the narrative conjunction occurs.

  4. Divide the number of narrative clauses by the total number of clauses and report that number to the board.

  5. Lecture on temporality and particularity.

In the next class meeting, we will hand back sheets and let people compare. What changed? What did not? Collect both sets afterwards.

Week 7

This week is all about participants performing the stories with the text of the story behind them. At 13:20, class will be interrupted by the test of the EBS.

Week 8

Over the next three class meetings, we are going to take a deep dive into traditional storytelling and stories. We are going to watch three documentaries. The first two are broadly focused on the folk culture of a particular area but feature stories and storytelling and the last of which is focused particularly on stories and storytelling. We will start the furthest away, with a film about Appalachian folk culture, then take a step towards Louisiana with a film about African American folk culture in the Deep South — it was shot in Mississippi but much of it applies to Louisiana — and then we will end with a documentary about "swapping stories" in Louisiana.

For each documentary, I expect you to take notes on the stories and their tellers: who tells what tale, what is that tale about, and how does the telling shape your understanding of the tale. (E.g., you are going to watch a man tell a story about life in prison in the shadow of a boat drydocked on the Mississippi River levee. He is surrounded by other who understand what it means always to be on the wrong side of the law.)

In addition to the documentaries, I will upload here audio recordings for you to listen to. They will be accompanied by transcripts. Listen to the story. Break it into pieces of scenes and of clauses. Think about how it's put together and what you could learn from it about how to put a story together. Bring the transcripts and your notes to each class meeting.

When we meet, we will focus on lessons learned and key takeaways. At the end of this unit, I am gong to ask you to write a story of your own imagining. )The nature of that assignment will be revealed when the time is right.)

Appalachian Journey:

The Land Where the Blues Began:

Swapping Stories:

Watch Appalachian Journey, taking special note of the storytelling performances that occur within the documentary. Listen to Ray Hicks perform “Jack and the Fire Dragon.” Print the transcript and bring it to class.

Watch Blues from the Delta, again taking special note of the storytelling performances and the stories told. Listen to Oscar Babineaux performances. Print transcripts and bring them to class. Link:

Watch Swapping Stories. Link:

Week 9

Take a true story that you regularly tell or that you have heard told — by a friend, family member, someone at work, someone in a class — and revise it to include one unreal element that either strengthens the story's original meaning or transforms it. The story itself can be anywhere from 350-700 words (it can go longer but make sure you have a good reason for it going longer). A supplement to the story should make clear why you chose that particular unreal element and how it is intended to work. Print two copies of the story (double-sided) and bring them to class. Print the supplement separately and bring it as well. Hand in a copy of the story and the supplement at the start of class.

Take a story you have heard about campus or an issue you have with campus and turn it into a just-so story, legend, or tall tale. The story must address a dimension of campus that others have experienced and can go experience for themselves — we want them to be able to test the "truth" of your story. This does not mean that, should you write a story that includes the fact demons possess the elevators in Griffin that your audience must be able to go see demons, only that they might find themselves wondering if there are gremlins (or whatever) causing the elevator to make that noise and heave to a stop between floors.  That is, can you write a story that changes the way people see things? That makes them want to do something? One obvious caveat is that the story must not suggest anything dangerous. (350-700 words)

Week 10

Choose a podcast or audiobook that features storytelling in some capacity and then choose a story from within that production to discuss. In your discussion of that story, establish its context within the larger work: what is the larger work about? How often do stories feature? What are the stories usually like? In addition to such textual matters, also pay attention in your discussion to production matters: what is the nature of the voice recording? (Is it in a live performance with other sounds or is it a studio production?) Are there added elements? (For example, do the producers of the text add in sound effects or a musical score?) How do these elements add to the overall affect of the story being told and/or to how stories are told in general in the production? Add information for your analysis to the class slide deck Audio Productions under the Files tab.

Week 12

Create a video in which you tell a story. You have a couple of options:

  1. You telling a story directly into the camera. All of the software you need is on your phone. What you have to be mindful of is lighting, sound, and shot composition. (Fortunately, when it comes to editing, jump cuts are an accepted way to put things together.) Begin with your story as well as your preferred way to produce a video. You have a number of options here: the walk and talk that emphasizes the journey you are taking your audience on, the first person perspective that allows you to limit your appearance in the video to your hands, and the confidential that has you go “face to face” with your audience are three of a wide variety of well-established tropes when producing videos of this kind. Whatever one you choose, be sure to record what filmmakers call “B roll.” The A roll is the main for a video. Usually it has the audio to which you are going to cut everything else. B roll is supplemental video you have recorded, so that when you mention a pencil you can show your audience a pencil. From experience, you can never have enough B roll: shoot twice as much as you think you might need and you may have just enough.

  2. You telling a story while edited video of some kind (from other videos, stock video, animated images (like zooming or panning of photographs and drawings) or images you animate (like puppets or SouthPark). You could also use video captured from a game like Mindcraft or Sims: this kind of machinima was quite popular for a while, with Red vs Blue running for I don’t know how many series.

  3. Other people telling your stories either directly addressing the camera, like 1 above, or by acting it out—this in itself could take the form of a “table read” or some protean form of acting.

Your finished video should be 3–5 minutes long—but, please, no longer than 8 minutes.

Week 13

Create a scene from an interactive game in which your audience chooses from a series of options (please go at least three deep). You can use PowerPoint to do this and either walk us through the branching story, as they are called, with notes like “If you choose X, go to Slide Y” or you can use PowerPoint’s built-in interactive functionality to make it possible for your audience to play your game for themselves. Imagine you are pitching your game to a game studio: give us the larger framework (no more than 30 seconds and/or no more than a slide or two) but be sure to drop us into the scene as quickly as possible.

The Fine Print

Attendance. Active participation is a baseline expectation for this course. However, given the endless pandemic circumstances, I expect everyone to consider their own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others. Do not come to campus if you have reason to suspect you’ve been exposed to coronavirus or exhibit symptoms. If you need to miss class, stay in touch with me by Teams so we can figure out a plan to ensure you finish the semester successfully. Absence does not justify turning in assignments late. Above all, stay in touch.

Make-Up Work. Work may be made up on a case-by-case basis. Arrangements must be made in person before assignment due dates.

Communication. Almost everything will go through Teams. In fact, if you wish to reach me individually, I also suggest using Teams. You are responsible for checking Teams on a regular basis to stay up-to-date. You should confirm any important oral communication by Teams, and if it was an announcement made to the class, then doing so in the group channel is doing a favor for all of us (including me!). If you need to contact me by email, please remember to do so in a professional manner. (I encourage a certain amount of informality in Teams because it helps to lower the threshold for what can otherwise feel awkward, but do remember that the internet is still the internet.)

Notetaking by hand is one of the greatest skills you can cultivate. I have noted elsewhere why I take notes by hand, and since then the evidence has only increased that part of what we lose with our devices is the ability to be creative. The added advantage of taking notes by hand is that they are your notes; they are private by default; and they don’t require batteries to access. Consider your notes the place where you cultivate your ideas and then the digital realm where you publish.

A device-free meeting space. The bargain I will make with you for keeping your devices in your bags and packs is that our class meetings will only ever last as long as they need to and no longer. My goal is to make our meetings not simply “sage on a stage” but a place where we talk, work, and, yes, write. (As we get better at writing without devices, devices will start being allowed. Ironic, isn’t it?)

Academic Integrity. The University considers both cheating and plagiarism serious offenses. The minimum penalty for a student responsible of either dishonest act is a grade of “zero” for the assignment in question. The maximum penalty is dismissal from the University. The complete policy may be found in the UL Lafayette catalog.

ChatGPT. The University does not have a policy on the use of large language model text generators like ChatGPT. I actively research ChatGPT and other generative transformers, and I have a pretty good understanding of how they work and what results they produce. While such tools can assist writers, they are not a replacement for your own creativity, originality, or critical thinking. Writing, like all crafts, takes time and effort to develop. Writing assignments in this course present an opportunity for you to develop your individual voice as a writer and skills as a researcher. That said, within limited circumstances, and with proper attribution, text generators may be used as a tool. You must speak with me in advance before using them.

Safety and Emergency. A map of this floor is posted near the elevator marking the evacuation route and Designated Rescue Area. This is an area where emergency service personnel will go first to look for individuals who need assistance in exiting the building.

Reasonable Accommodation. Disability Accommodations: Students needing academic accommodations for a disability must first be registered with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) to verify the disability and to establish eligibility for accommodations. Students may call 337-482-5252 or visit the ODS office in the Conference Center, room

  1. Once registered, students should then schedule an appointment with the professor to make appropriate arrangements.

Discrimination and Harassment. This class will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran. Alternative viewpoints are welcome; however, statements that are deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, or otherwise discriminatory toward other participants, including the instructor, will result in dismissal. Please be respectful and courteous in all communication, be it written, oral, and/or nonverbal communication both in and out of class.