Notes on Ira Glass’ Notes on Storytelling

A textual summary and paraphrasing of some tips Ira Glass (of NPR’s This American Life) has for people starting out in the broadcast business and want to know what makes a good story. Taken from a four-part series of little YouTube videos.

Two building blocks of broadcast storytelling:
The Anecdote
A sequence of actions. Story in its purest form. A person saying ‘this happened, and that led to this next thing, and this next thing’ and so on. One thing following another. And some things in the sequence can be: ‘then that made me think of this, and that made me say this.’ It has a momentum unto itself. A train that has a destination and is going to find something. Generally you want to start with the action. Raising a question from the beginning. Bait. You want to constantly be raising questions. The ‘why’. It’s implied that any question you raise, you’re going to answer. You want to constantly be raising questions and answering them. Example: man getting out bed. House is unusually silent. House in ya, really silent.
Moment of reflection
At some point someone says ‘Here’s why the hell you’re listening to this story.’ The point of this story, the bigger something we’re driving at: here’s why I’m wasting your time with all this. Flip back and forth between the anecdote and the reflection. Be ruthless in figuring out what your story means.

Don’t underline every third word; it sounds unnatural. You want to talk the way people normally talk.

Beginner errors: We want to sound and act like people on TV, but the more you sound like a human being and talk like yourself, the more compelling. A good personality: someone who talks amusingly about themselves for a while, but then lets someone else talk for a while and is genuinely interested and curious in them. You can be in the story too, as a clear personality, but another person is the main character in the story. Even when you’re the central character, you need to see yourself through other people’s eyes: that’s drama. People interacting.