Words of Wisdom
It is interesting to hear Ira Glass describing how good stories are not like high school term papers or essays. He observes that high school papers are structured in a certain that include a topic sentence followed by a set of supporting arguments. In contrast, he tells us that an “anecdote” is a very important component of a great story because it immediately engages you as a listener. In addition to including a great anecdote, a great story will describe the circumstances and importantly the emotions surrounding the literal events. It is important that these two components, the anecdote and the emotional connection, work together. It is really important that the emotional elements add depth to the literal actions in a story to engage the listener’s imagination. The connected literal action and the emotional aspects are the two components that add suspense and make a story interesting.
In the first segment, Ira Glass provides an example of a story that simply recounts a person’s mundane morning in their home. However, we are told throughout each event that the house is extremely quiet. The simple fact that the house is very quiet builds suspense. It is a type of bait that pulls the listener into the story. The first time we hear that the house is “unearthly quiet,” we are engaged with the story because we want to learn more about why it is so quiet. Is it normally that quiet? Did something happen to make it that quiet? Is something wrong or is something going to happen? What makes it “unearthly quiet”? This foreshadowing insures that suspense is embedded in an otherwise unremarkable story.
Ira Glass also notes that in audio stories the content itself can be more important than the way it is presented. Great stories can sometimes tell themselves. He says that the majority of your time should be spent looking for and finding the best stories. This is very different from producing film in many cases. Many modern movies have meaningless storylines that are embellished by special effects, fast paced action scenes, or attractive actors and actresses. Action-packed car chase scenes appear in nearly every movie produced. In audio stories, in contrast, it is nearly impossible to hide a mediocre plot with special effects thus emphasizing that the storyline itself is a critical component of a great audio story. Ira Glass notes that a great story teller is like a detective searching through a large volume of boring material until just the write story is discovered. Finding great stories is a lot of work, but the diligent search is the critical element to producing a truly special story.
Ira Glass also makes the very interesting point that the rhythm and cadence of normal daily speech is very different from the way many people talk on the radio. He shows us an example in which a radio reporter is speaking using a emphasis on every third word, thinking this is adding suspense to the story when it is actually making the story seem unnatural. Additionally, Ira Glass directly exposed the triviality of much video content that is presented as if it were telling a great story. In this Ira Glass video, the actual video component is low quality, is highly pixelated, and the mundane backdrop is simply a broadcasting room. We can also note that Ira Glass is not wearing any fancy clothing. There is nothing in the video that appeals to the eye. I think this was done intentionally to demonstrate that video is not necessary to tell a great story or to teach a lesson well.
In the audio portion this week, we also have to tell stories with none to minimal visual aid.