Storytelling 101

In a four-part series broadcasted on YouTube, Ira Glass gives his best tidbits on how to tell a good story. 

NOTE: Glass predominately talks about broadcast stories, I’m going to take this information and talk about it as if Glass were talking about a print story.

Just like previous reaction posts, when they are divided into different sections I’ll do the same thing here.  Read what Glass had to say and sprinkle in a little bit of my opinion (you know, for some added flavor).

On the basics…

You’re not in highschool anymore.  That part was clear. 

Glass says there are two basic building blocks to telling a good story.  The anicdote and the moment of reflection, each dependant on each other.  An anicdote is a sequence of actions – a story in its purest form.  A moment of reflection is where you tell your reader or listener why they are reading/listening/watching what you have to offer.

I once had a professor tell me this, as incredibly simple and obvious as it sounds, “remember we are in the storytelling business.”  Sometimes you tend to just write or whatever your medium may be.  You don’t think about what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.  You can’t simply produce something and expect people to want to read it.  The content may be good but if you don’t tell them why, they’ll never know…

Finding a Great Story…

A lot of the time when you find what you think is a great story idea, you might want to run with it.  Even without looking at your other options, options that might even be better.  Glass mentions that he spends just as much time looking for a story as he does producing it.  Anywhere from one-third to half of his ideas are thrown out.

Those numbers are a little high in my own experience, but they do make a point.  Take your time.  Not only writing but searching as well.  From time to time, I will begin to write a story and the original idea will change in the midst of writing.  Reasons for this tend to vary.  But I think it still shows the importance of taking your time in writing.  Had I spent more time researching my story idea, would I have found the better story that I found once I began writing?  It’s a good question – with a likely answer of yes.

On Good Taste…

According to Glass most finished products are crappy, yet the taste in which the work was create is great.  Well, that’s a real ego booster there Ira…  I understand what he means though, he even plays a clip of his own, from several years prior, that he deems crappy.  If I said I had never done the same thing, I think that could be considered niave.  When I look back at some of the first pieces I ever wrote for WSR, I think “What was I doing?”

I would ask Glass, if he agrees with me when I say striving to be better every time you write fits well with this catagory.  I believe so and I do my best to practice that as well.

Glass also says that a lot of people who quit the journalism industry are those who could not overcome the time when their ideas were great but the finished product was still “crappy.”  This is no easy business incase you missed it.  Which leads me back to the idea of producing better quality journalism everytime you do whatever it is you do, I think that if you truely strive to do so that quitting will not be an issue.

Two Common Pitfalls…

Where ever our interests lie in the field of journalism, it is likely that at one time or another were inspired by something on television.  This next sentence may come as a shock to some if not all of you; but most of what is on TV is crappy.  Poorly produced if you prefer that better. 

Glass uses the example of television, I think the internet is an even better example especially when focusing on the writing profession.  I know that for me personally I have found TV personalities, more so bloggers and writers from the internet that have sparked my interest in journalism.  And just like Glass said, I found myself wanting to be like them.  You have to be very weary of who you try to emulate. 

You’ve heard this before, but BE YOURSELF.  Do what you do best and let people notice.  Don’t try to copy what you see elsewhere.  You can take things here and there that will help you become a better journalist but only within reason.

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