Discussion: Principles of Longer-Form Storytelling
Story arc: There should be a beginning, middle, and end to your story. In an episodic format, there are often mini narrative arcs within each episode and longer arcs that unfold over a whole series.
- Exposition: The introduction of background information, such as setting and backstories of characters
- Rising Action: Some sort of momentum is engaged. Conflict and motivations come into play.
- Climax: Turning point for the character(s), as the conflict comes to a head.
- Falling Action: Immediate fallout from climax.
- Resolution: Lessons learned, loose ends tied up.
Things to keep in mind:
Motivation: What does the character want?
Character development: How does the character change?
Pacing/Structure: Sometimes, stories don’t unfold chronologically. One storytelling device is to begin in the middle of things and use flashbacks to slowly help the exposition and backstory come into focus in an intriguing way.
Music: What is the theme for your podcast? How can you use it judiciously to enhance but not distract from your story?
How are these principles the same/different in journalistic storytelling compared to fiction?
As you’re planning your podcast episodes, it might help to have this to refer to. Here’s a typical structure for an episodic podcast:
Intro theme song.
Welcome from host.
Any announcements (live tapings, upcoming shows, ads/fundraisers, etc.)
Final comments from host: Credits, website, please rate and review on iTunes, etc.
Outro theme song.
It’s not required for this class, but if you intend to distribute your podcasts online, you’ll want to consider designing a graphic for your podcast. Something simple that captures the identity of your show, at a minimum size of 1400×1400.
You will also want to check out how to submit a podcast to iTunes.
We’re going to resume listening to the first episode of S-Town. While we listen, I want you to take notes. We’re going to deconstruct the episode, essentially, and then talk about it together on Monday.
Storytelling like this sounds effortless when it’s done well, but if you really pay attention, it becomes clear just how much thought and intention goes into every element of a scripted podcast like this. So as we play the episode, mark down time codes of the different scenes and sections of the podcast and describe what is happening in terms of the storytelling elements we have discussed above. Like this:
0:00-0:30 Spotify ad.
0:30: “Chapter One.” Extended metaphor about antique clocks, and clockmakers who fix them. Intriguing music slowly builds. Angle/theme introduced.
“I’m told fixing an old clock can be maddening… you’re constantly wondering if you’ve just spent hours going down a path that will take you nowhere, and all you’ve got are these vague witness marks which might not even mean what you think they mean. So at every moment along the way you’ve got to decide if you’re wasting your time or not. Anyway, I only learned about all this because years ago an antique clock restorer contacted me, John B. Macklemore, and asked me to help him solve a murder.” Exposition: main characters (both Brian and John) and motivation introduced. John wants help solving this murder. Brian wants a good story. This request is the spark that sets into motion everything that follows.
2:15: Music changes abruptly. Becomes much more dramatic. We are teased with clips of John’s phone call saying something about how “something’s happened.” We also hear him reference this “shit town.” This is very important and intentional, timing-wise, because in just a few more seconds, that will be announced as the title of the whole podcast.
2:48: We finally get to the actual title. “From Serial and This American Life, I’m Brian Reed. This is Shit Town.” Dramatic music ends.
3:00-17:59: No music. Now we get to a pretty straightforward narrative where Brian tells us about reading the first email from John in 2012. He sets up the phone call with John and we hear the phone ring. There may be some editing, but for the next fifteen minutes or so it sounds as if the phone call more or less plays out as it unfolded in real time. John tells Brian about the town where he lives, why he thinks someone from an influential family in town is getting away with murder, and about himself. We hear about the maze he maintains on his land, his mother who he takes care of, and about his depression. These details are not directly relevant to the murder storyline but they tell us something about John, who is a complicated character.
Homework: For next class, listen to episodes 2 and 3 and come prepared to discuss them.