Category: Blog

by Marsha Little Matthews

July 3, 2019

The Summer 1 session of COMM 5333/MCOM 4333 Narrative Storytelling Across Media wraps up this week. Five weeks go quickly, especially when learning a new way to conceptualize narrativity and approach mediated storytelling.

Five undergraduate students with some experience in video and audio production and three graduate students, two of whom had no video or audio production experience and one who did, enthusiastically embraced the challenge.

The final project for this course was a 3-5 minute audio story approached with a documentary-style rather than a traditional news interview style. Elements to be incorporated/applied to create the stories include:

  • William Labov’s Five Principles of Tellibility (Ryan, 2004)
    • Abstract
    • Orientation
    • Complicating Action
    • Evaluation
    • Result or Resolution
    • Coda (if used)
  • Kurt Lancaster’s Concepts of Character and Dramatic Structure (Lancaster, 2013)
    • Dramatic Structure
      • Hook
      • Conflict
      • Climax and Resolution
    • Character
      • What does the character want?
      • What does the character do to achieve this?
    • Use of Music and Sound Effects
    • Editing – Rhythm and Pacing
      • Montage
      • Decoupage
      • Collision
      • Linkage
    • Tension and Release
    • Audio Design

Here are the stories produced by this summer’s students.


Ryan, M-L (2004). Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling.Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Lancaster, K. (2013). Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling. New York: Routledge.

by Marsha Little Matthews

I discovered this video on the CBS Evening News web page. CBS News posted this 1 minute 13 second time-lapse video of the 10-hour process to make a police officer invisible. This is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

I’m interested in how narratives could be wholly or in-part told using time-lapse video/photography. This short time-lapse video showing the behind-the-scenes of the process of making an actor appear invisible isn’t a narrative about the consequences of driving under the influence or part of a narrative about the consequences of driving under the influence… or is it?

“The fullest form of narrativity occurs when the text is both intended as narrative and possesses sufficient narrativity to be construed as such, though the story encoded in the text and the story decoded by the reader can never be extracted from the brain and laid side by side for comparison.” (Ryan, 2004, pp. 9-10)

The term “text” may also be construed as mediated narratives using audio, video, photography, painting, sculpture, music, etc.

“…narrative is a mental image – a cognitive construct – built by the interpreter as a response to the text.” (Ryan, 2004, p. 9)

Narrative meaning is the cognitive construct or mental image created by the interpreter/listener/viewer/reader of the storyteller’s narrative. What the interpreter brings personally to the experience influences the narrative meaning he/she constructs cognitively. So, the interpreter of this particular time-lapse video brings his/her prior experiences and meanings to the “text” of the video. Will this result in the cognitive construction of new narrative meaning for the interpreter of the video? And if so, will this narrative meaning differ from individual to individual?

Hmmm… narrative storytelling across media… what bits, forms, and pieces might be intertwined, constructed, and deconstructed to convey different meanings on a variety of levels to varied and multiple audiences for a single narrative story? What about the meaning the storyteller is hoping to share? Is the narrative meaning for the interpreter the same, completely different, or a hybrid (and perhaps deeper) mental construct?

The questions, musings, and possibilities are intriguing.


Ryan, Marie-Laure (2004). Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Copyright 2013 Marsha Little Matthews

by Marsha Little Matthews

Narrative is how humans find meaning in the events of our lives. Each storyteller is sharing his/her lived experience and in the process is sharing the meaning of that experience for them with you, the listener/reader/viewer. These storytellers are sharing an important event or crisis in their lives. This is the burden and responsibility that the producer/writer must accept and understand when asking someone to tell his or her story. Ethically, the producer/writer/editor must work to craft the project so that it remains consistent with the storyteller’s narrative.

However, no one hears, reads, or views a story in a vacuum. We, as audience, bring our own life experiences and meaning to the experience. The producer/writer/editor is no different. He/she must acknowledge how his or her own experiences and frames of meaning may affect or reflect upon the narrative meaning he or she cognitively creates from hearing, reading, or viewing the narrative. This is the challenge and the reality of creating mediated narratives.

The final three audio narrative projects are grouped under the theme of inspiration and transformation. Again, the student producers aimed to let these stories be told as much as possible in the words of each storyteller. Narration is used sparingly, and with purpose.

In My Mommy, My Hero , Haley Ferguson uses co-narration whereby she and her mother jointly tell the story of Mary’s diagnosis of cancer. They each tell the story from their own point of view and memory.

Reverend Charles King shares his story of faith as he lay in the hospital waiting for a transplant.

And, Kathy Dawson shares her stories of loss and faith.

  • Production: My Mommy, My Hero
  • Producer/Writer: Haley Ferguson
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storytellers: Mary Ferguson and Haley Ferguson
  • Production: In the Morning
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Kiera Wade
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storytellers: Reverend Charles King and Deborah King
  • Production Transcript: In the Morning Program Transcript


Copyright 2013 Marsha Little Matthews

by Marsha Little Matthews

“What is narrative?” This is the question I posed to my summer topics class the first evening we met. We considered the following components that go into defining narrative.

  • May be presented using a variety of formats, media, and genres
  • Stories based upon our lived experience
  • A basic human strategy for coming to terms with time, process, and/or change

We also had to make a distinction between the interdisciplinary study of narrative and the study of narrative storytelling across media. I like Marie-Laure Ryan’s definition:

The study of narrative across media is not the same project as the interdisciplinary study of narrative: whereas one project directs us to the importance of narrative in mostly language-based practice, the other focuses on the embodiment, that is to say, the particular semiotic substance and the technological mode of transmission of narrative. Its categories are language, image, sound, gesture, and further, spoken language, writing, cinema, radio, television, and computers, rather than law, medicine, science, literature, and history. (Ryan, 2004, page 1)

We used this as our foundation for studying mediated narrative. The final audio narrative project had to possess narrativity, that is, “being able to evoke such a [narrative] script” (Ryan, p.9) in the mind of an audience, and possess tellability – a quality that makes the story worth telling.  This is the “so what” factor. One of my doctoral professors always made us answer the “so what” question regardless of what we were writing.

  • Why does it matter?
  • Who suffers if we don’t answer this question?
  • So what?

Great questions. Regardless of what I’m writing, creating, or researching, I’m forced to dig deeper for the meaning behind the work. If there is no meaning, if it doesn’t really matter, then why do it at all? Asking such questions also serves to draw my attention to the real question and keeps the writing, creating, and research narrowed and focused so I can leave out anything that doesn’t contribute to the text under construction.

In the act of telling one’s story, the storyteller is actively building the structure of the story to share the meaning the storyteller found in the events. Remember, narrative is how humans make meaning out of lived experience. It’s how we come to terms with what happens to us – good or bad – as we live our lives.  It is through telling one’s story repeatedly, that the storyteller figures out what the meaning is for him or her. This is one reason why a person telling about a tragic personal event is compelled to include multiple back stories when sharing the narrative with others in the hours, weeks, and months following the event. Each subsequent telling may get shorter as the storyteller comes to terms with the changes the tragedy brought about in his or her life.

When my husband died at age 38 from cancer, I had to tell a very long story, filled with many details and side stories, so that the listener could know who he was, why he was special, how he fought the disease, and the experience of growing with him throughout the journey. It took a while, but thirty years later I can tell the story in one sentence. It’s not because I don’t think all of the elements of the first story weren’t important. I’ve come to terms with what the experience means to me, and telling the longer story is how I worked my way through the meaning making process.

When the storyteller is sharing his/her lived narrative, it is with the purpose of sharing that meaning with the listener/viewer/reader.  If I want to share the meaning of my husband’s death and my loss, I will tell a much longer story than the one-sentence version even today. But I will not tell that narrative to someone who merely asks me what happened to my husband.

So, my students had to find someone with a narrative that possesses narrativity and tellability. To discover such a story, they had to ask open-ended questions, and keep asking questions. Next, they had to transcribe the recordings and analyze the text for the narrative meaning, and finally construct a script. And often, the narrative the students uncovered as they analyzed the transcripts was not the story they originally thought was being told.

Narrative meaning doesn’t really happen until the listener/viewer/reader has created his/her own mental image in response to the story. No meaning has been shared until the listener/viewer/reader receives and owns it. It’s not the telling of the story that creates meaning for the receiver of the story. It’s like basic communication theory – you really haven’t communicated anything until the idea in your mind is received and cognitively constructed in the mind of your intended receiver.

Here are three more audio narratives for you to hear. These stories are grouped together because they share a theme of personal journey and discovery.

Julian Hood is a senior majoring in Spanish and minoring in Mass Communication, Kirstine Kirst and Kenny Lange are graduate students in the master’s in communication program at The University of Texas at Tyler.

  • Production: Mia’s Journey
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Julian Hood
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Mia Milokis
  • Production: Bucket List
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Kris Kirst
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Stephen Rainwater
  • Production: Dream Exchange
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Kenny Lange
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Zach Krumm
  • Female Voice: Ali Smith, Girlfriend
  • Male Voice: Jordan Butler, Boss

I’ll post the final three audio narratives in my next blog.


Ryan, Marie-Laure (2004). Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.


Copyright 2013 Marsha Little Matthews

Narrative Audio Stories

by Marsha Little Matthews

Last fall I discover NPR’s RadioLab.  I know, it’s been around a while and I bemoan that it took so long for me to be in my car at just the time it was airing. (I guess I really need to either drive longer distances more often or turn my radio/internet on when I’m not in the car.) The episode was Finding Emilie and after listening to it, I couldn’t wait to share it with my Literary Journalism graduate class. The structure of the episode seemed so akin to the structures we were studying with regard to literary journalism, even though this was an audio mediated narrative.

So, this summer I decided to teach a topics course over narrative theory and aurality. I wanted to explore mediated narrative storytelling, especially non-fiction narratives constructed with minimal to no reporter narration. There was no requirement that a student have any production or reporting experience. And there wasn’t a lot of time as the summer session only lasted five weeks. We met two evenings each week for a total of nine sessions.

The class consisted of four graduate students and five undergraduate students. Of these, only one graduate student had any production experience and four of the undergraduate students had taken at least a multimedia production course that I teach covering basic video and audio production. I quickly decided that to produce a video in five weeks with limited production experience was out of the question. I decided the narrative project would be an audio interview narrative, created utilizing the theory and knowledge acquired during the first three weeks of the course. The students had a one-session tutorial on Audacity audio editing software during the seventh class meeting – one week before the project was due.

This class exceeded my hopes and expectations for what could be accomplished in such a short period. The students analyzed short video documentaries and audio narratives using the theoretical concepts and structures we studied. They each interviewed people they hoped would have a story sufficient to craft a non-fiction audio narrative and not just a traditional Q&A reporter centered interview. Most had to go back and get additional questions answered, and then apply the theories and structure to the resulting transcripts. Most of the students then discovered the story they thought they were going after and the story rich with potential narrative meaning were quite different.

I’ll be sharing these audio narratives in sets of three, beginning with this first post from my new Narrative Storytelling Across Media blog.

The first three audio narratives are stories about relationships, challenges, and finding meaning in the events of life. Jessi Reel is a graduate student in the MA in Communication program at The University of Texas at Tyler. She interviewed Ruth Stone, her grandmother. JaHavon London and Matthew Crawford are seniors in the bachelor’s in Mass Communication program. JaHavon interviewed co-worker Greg Newland about how his life changed direction while on the football team at Texas A&M Commerce University. Matthew interviewed Ronald Crawford, his father, who has Parkinson’s Disease.

  • Production: Fate
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: JaHavon London
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Greg Newland
  • Transcript: Fate Production Transcript
  • Production: Ronald Crawford’s Story
  • Producer/Writer/Narrator: Matthew Crawford
  • Executive Producer: Marsha Little Matthews
  • Storyteller: Ronald Crawford
  • Transcript: Ronald Crawford Story Program Transcript


Copyright 2013 Marsha Little Matthews

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