Blogs 2013

Two Truths are Better than One

A great story is like a hidden fossil — except instead of buried in the earth, stories are buried in people. Like an archaeologist, the interviewer must map out where to search, determine the outlines of the story, and ever-so-carefully bring it into the light. Retrieving just one story — intact, with all its delicate edges preserved — is the task of an expert. But the truly exceptional storytellers have an extra sense. They can recognize when the fossil they’re extracting is not the only one. They know when to expand the operation, and when to dig deep.

 

That’s what we’re going to explore today: how do you develop the ability to get the whole story? How can you sense when a little more probing can yield an entirely new layer of astonishment? We’ll be answering that question by looking at a recent story from This American Life called My Ames is True, told by the eminent Michael Lewis.

 

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Blogs 2013

Ending Stories

So far this blog has been about great stories and how they work. Each blogpost has focused on a craft element of a story that we love. But with winter in the air, we’ve decided to open up “Inside Story” to discussions of storytelling in a broader sense. We will still write about great stories and how they work, but instead of solely focusing on craft, we will also write about the role these stories take on in our lives and the world. With that in mind, this week I came across some articles about the use of stories in medicine, and I’ll share some of those findings with you here.

 

Because stories are the medium by which we express and absorb meaning, they can have a healing quality. It’s not surprising that storytelling is becoming more widely used in medicine, especially in end-of-life care, where the need for meaning-making tends to spike, the focus of care is less curative and more palliative, and the physical, psychosocial, emotional, and existential aspects of wellness are viewed in a more integrative way.

 

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Blogs 2013

Enhancing the Magic of the Interview

 

I recently sat with my grandfather and asked him to tell me his life story. It only took about an hour, but that hour was perhaps the most significant hour of our entire relationship.

 

It’s an honor to interview another person, and there are a million little things that can make the experience more powerful and effective for both interviewer and interviewee. Rob Rosenthal has actually developed a pretty canonical checklist of how to set yourself up for an excellent interview experience, and that’s a fantastic way to prepare yourself.

 

Here’s a selection of my personal favorite interview tips that I’ve collected over time, hopefully some of which you’ve never heard before:

 

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Blogs 2013

Unexpected Logic

I’ve listened to hundreds of podcasts, and I can count on one hand the ones that have brought tears to my eyes.

 

The first time I listened to This American Life’s ‘Kid Logic’ was back in February. I was walking around Stanford, streaming it on my iPhone. The first piece, called “Baby Scientists with Faulty Data,” is all about how kids use their own brands of “logic” to come to scientific conclusions. For instance, an African American woman talks about the first time she saw white people, and how she assumed they must be ghosts.

 

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Blogs 2013

Hanging Out at Warp Speed

When I listen to Radiolab, I feel like I’m in the studio with them while they tinker, banter, and generally have a good time, and for years I’ve been perplexed by how they can accomplish this; they take their stories to some of the biggest and smallest places in the universe, and the entire time they make it feel like they’re all just hanging out! How is it that they can possibly maintain a casual/comfortable vibe in a show that’s so densely packed with material?

 

I recently discovered somewhat of an answer to my perplexity, and I wrote this blogpost to share it. If you want the tl;dr version, it’s the following: they tell their stories to each other instead of telling them directly to the audience, and they do that over and over again, until it’s just right.

 

For the longer version, read on:

 

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Blogs 2013

Combing the Dragon’s Hair

I heard a story once about a professor who had trouble getting enrollment in a course, which was titled something along the lines of, ‘Representations of the Mythopoetic in Prose and Poetry.’ So few students enrolled that the course was nearly canceled. The following year he taught the exact same course, but this time he titled it ‘Combing the Dragon’s Hair,’ and it filled up right away. There was even a waiting list.

Last week we focused on strategies for framing our stories and capturing our listener’s attention. This week we’re focusing on titles. You know the old adage, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ It’s true, we shouldn’t judge people, courses, or stories by their titles. But we do, and so does everybody, because there’s something in human nature that gives tremendous weight to first impressions.

 

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Blogs 2013

Promises, Promises

Some people have superpowers, and Ira Glass’s superpower just might be framing and introducing stories. We have been so awed by this superpower over the years that we finally decided to concatenate a bunch of Ira Glass intros, listen to all of them back-to-back, and see what kinds of lessons we could glean. We decided, in other words, to x-ray that uncanny knack he has for duct-taping us to every story This American Life presents.

This exercise is hard for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s like turning on the song of the siren and trying to not get hypnotized. While we were working on this, we had to remind ourselves, ‘No, we’re not here to listen to the stories. We’re here to listen to the introductions.’ Glass puts you right in that place where you care about what happens next… and then you have to listen to yet another introduction. The process is incredibly frustrating, and that’s because Glass is doing his job incredibly well.

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Blogs 2013

The Most Engrossing Horrible Vacation

The infamous story of Typhoid Mary has been told and retold so many times that many people believe they understand the whole story (that she started the outbreak of a disease she didn’t even experience). However, in “The Most Horrible Seaside Vacation,” the Radiolab team paints a new picture of Typhoid Mary, one much more relatable and personal than any I’ve heard before.

How do they make it so intimate? By recreating Mary’s point of view through reenactments of her perspective and weaving in historical documents.

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Blogs 2013

How to Tell a Heartbreaker

This country’s history is filled with stories that are difficult to read. I’ve been trying to finish Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for a year and a half now, and can only get through one chapter before I have to set it down. It takes me a month or so before I have the energy to pick it up again. These kinds of stories take tremendous effort to absorb, and yet these are important stories and we should know them.

But how do we convince our listeners to listen to stories that yield an immediate jolt of sorrow and shame?

One way is to couch them in more hopeful narratives, as evidenced by pieces like this, which tells the extremely difficult story of Chief Joseph within a more buoyant, contemporary framework.

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