Off to a Good Start

by Bonnie Swift


I think that the most challenging part of a writing a story for radio is formulating the introduction. The stakes are very high: your listener will decide within a few short seconds whether to stick around for your story or whether to turn the proverbial dial, and so you must do everything you can to persuade that listener to stay, and you must do it quickly. A good introduction has the magical power to seize a person’s attention and keep them curious about how your story will unfold.

I came across a great example of this in our own archives, in The Human Map, by Raj Bhandari. Within the first 30 seconds, Bhandari introduces himself, his topic, his character, and, perhaps most importantly, promises us that we will learn something new if we continue listening. So what else can we do but stay?!

Here is the transcript of the first 30 seconds. I think it’s worth reading closely, because it is so packed with top-quality craft elements.

“A genome is complete set of genetic material in a human. Through most of human history it has been hidden. But in today’s world we can now look into ourselves and map our genetic code. We can now understand ourselves at the basic, elemental level. But we’re more than just amino acids and proteins. This is the story of someone who learned a lot about her genes. But she found out that knowing about her genetic sequence raised more questions than it answered.”

Here’s what this brief introduction accomplishes:

1. Starts by making sure that the audience is familiar with his topic. Defines his terms in very simple language that everyone can relate to.
2. Indicates the context of his subject, the ‘conversation’ to which this story makes a contribution.
3. Clearly signals a mystery/question, and has an implicit promise. Implies what you will learn/understand by the end of the story.
4. Introduces its narrator (himself) and his character.

As an aside, look how many sentences he uses in that intro! Short clauses are audio gold (because they’re easier for your listener’s brain to process), and when you listen to the story, you won’t even notice that he’s using them. Your attention will be drawn to the story of the woman who explores the mysteries of her DNA, right from the start. Have a careful listen to this one, and I promise you will learn something new...

The Human Map
Produced by Raj Bhandari and Jonah Willihnganz for SSP’s “State of the Human” in 2010
19 minutes


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