Unit #1: Video Narrative

(Worth 15% of your grade; due on September 25)


Humans have always been storytelling creatures. When we experience a significant event, we can’t help but tell other people about it, and in the many retellings, the event gains even greater significance. Some stories are individual; others are collective. Some are short and simple; others are long and complex. Whether or not you think of yourself as a good storyteller, chances are you tell stories every day.

This assignment asks you to tell a story—a narrative—about yourself or another member of the Virginia Tech community. Rather that writing a traditional essay, you will develop a digital narrative that combines your spoken voice with video clips or timed still images. In class, we will experiment with several tools for creating videos, but you may choose to use any software program that suits your goals for this project. Whatever approach you take to composing your narrative, the finished product should be a short video (2–4 minutes) that you can share on YouTube or Vimeo.

Strategies for Crafting a Successful Narrative

The following strategies provide broad guidance, but they aren’t a series of algorithmic steps like you’d use to bake a cake. If you have a Betty Crocker cake mix and you follow the steps on the box, you are all but guaranteed success in baking that cake. By contrast, the arts of writing and revision are recursive and generative. You often have to go back to go forward. Writing and revising also help you invent content; writing is not just the act of transcribing completed thoughts. So be open to scrapping what is not working and developing or redeveloping your ideas as you go. With those warnings in mind, here are a few strategies for crafting a successful video narrative:

Step 1: Consider several stories you could tell. Rather than settling on the first idea that comes to mind, draft a long list of potential topics for your narrative. Think about significant events in your own life, a friend’s story that has become legendary in your social circle, a member of the campus community who has a fascinating job, or a family member’s experiences at Tech. As you brainstorm ideas, remember that your narrative will be told with visuals, so try to home in on stories that can be documented with pictures or video.

Step 2: Select a specific story and focus on it. Once you have generated a list of possible narratives, choose the one that you feel will make the most compelling story. Your finished video should be no longer than four minutes, so your narrative shouldn’t meander aimlessly through your life story or the life story of your subject. The best narratives are highly specific, full of details that paint a vivid picture for the viewer, so before you begin to draft your script or collect visual materials, sketch out the fine points of your event. Next, try to articulate what point you want to make with your narrative. What is the moral of the story or the take-away lesson for the viewer? Finally, determine the sequence of sections in your narrative. Do you want to start by providing background material about your subject, or do you want to dive right in to the story?

Step 3: Draft your narrative. If you have completed Steps 1 and 2, you should have plenty of material to draw upon as you begin writing your script. Use whatever method is most comfortable for you, whether it is drafting on the computer, writing in a notebook, or recording yourself talking out loud. By nature, first drafts are incredibly messy, and that’s OK. You will have time in class to get feedback from your classmates about what you have written and to time yourself reading it out loud.

Step 4: Illustrate your narrative. Because your finished narrative will be presented as a video, it should be visually interesting to your audience. The images you choose to illustrate your story should be somehow connected to the words you are speaking, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to present literal depictions of every object or character in your story. Rather, the collection of images you choose should complement the text and create a cohesive visual experience for your viewers. We will spend time in class discussing how to find images and video clips that are appropriately licensed for use in projects like these, but you should plan on using personal images and/or video, too.

Step 5: Revise and rehearse your narrative. As you begin to combine your written text with your images and video, you will discover that you are pleasantly surprised by some parts of your narrative and deeply unhappy with other parts. At this point, it will help to get some advice from your classmates, so we will spend a day in class workshopping each other’s narratives. After this workshop, you should make final revisions to your text and rehearse it multiple times before you record the finished narrative.

Step 5: Record and submit your narrative. When you are ready to record your narrative, go the InnovationSpace in Torgerson Hall and use one of the audio bays to ensure excellent sound quality for your video. Save your video using one of the following filetypes: .mov, .mp4, .mpeg, .avi, .wmv. When your video is finished, title it as follows: “Full Name Video Essay” (e.g., my file would be called “Quinn Warnick Video Essay”). Place your video, your written script, and any other relevant materials into your shared Google Drive folder, then upload a copy of your video to YouTube or Vimeo. Your project should be submitted before you come to class on September 25.

Evaluation Criteria

I will evaluate your narrative using the following criteria:

  • Significance: Does the narrative address a significant aspect of the author’s life or a subject of importance to the Virginia Tech community?
  • Content: Does the narrative use specific details to tell a compelling story? Does the story serve a larger purpose? (In other words, is there a “so what” moment in the narrative?)
  • Organization: Does the arrangement of the narrative reflect careful thought and planning? Do the images and clips in the video complement the spoken text?
  • Style: Does the narrative use a consistent tone and point of view? Does the narrative employ stylistic choices that are appropriate for the genre and audience?
  • Editing: Are the scenes in the video carefully edited together? Do the audio tracks (including any background music) complement the video track?
  • Technical Proficiency: Does the video play without problems? Is the audio crisp, clear, and free of background noise? Are the images appropriately scaled to avoid pixelization and distortion?
  • Citations: Does the video (or the “About” section under the video) cite the original sources for each of its images, giving credit where credit is due?
  • Grammatical Conventions and Mechanics: Does the written script adhere to the conventions of standard written English?