I’m going back to first principles. I find this a useful starting place in many adventures. Once we understand these principles then we can break the rules.
So not surprisingly we need a story to have a beginning, a middle and end. If that we all there was to it then we, the storytelling species, would still be not that far from the trees our ancestors decided weren’t the place to be.
The key point to any story is a moment of change. In Pride and Prejudice two people change. Miss Bennet changes from single to married, and Mr Darcy from self centred bachelor to loving husband.
In War and Peace a man called Pierre wants to kill Napoleon but doesn’t. Admittedly a lot of things happen in that novel too but you get the picture.
We need to take our listeners from a starting point, through a crisis of some sort to a new place.
Let’s say you produce an online course podcast. You want listeners to understand the steps required in the process. You begin with the idea of a course, the crisis is explaining the steps beyond the writing process, something like understanding Facebook ads or some other part of marketing a new online course creator hadn’t thought about and then you bring them to the point where they have changed their understanding of the process because now they know there’s more to the process than just writing the course.
As a fiction producer, the process is more familiar. We can even start at the ending and work backwards so long as we take our listeners with us.
To do this we can make use of sound effects, music and found sounds. Even background soundscapes can be used. This is a difficult thing to get right. Too often first attempts can be a bit sledge hammer to open a peanut in their effects. Subtly is the key.
Planning is key. If you’re producing in seasons this becomes more obvious. If you produce a weekly show, keep the storytelling motif in the back of your mind as you plan each episode.
I’ve recently listened to a highly rated podcast, no names, no pack drill and there was prior to the latest episode a great structure and purpose to each of the previous eight or so episodes and then this latest one was all over the shop. Disjointed, sort of with a direction but difficult to tell.
Half way through the latest episode, they confirmed it was going live to drive without editing. They then confirmed they’d put hours into each of those previous episodes. I really felt used as a listener. The host was receiving my time. Great value had been provided in the earlier episodes which actually answered the questions raised in their titles. This last one was a rehash of their lives, the same bits they always cover with very little of use to the listener who had not fallen under the “guru” presence.
I make this point to show you the higher standard achievable with a plan and a structured story to tell. Even when you are doing interviews which can go off on tangents, tangents worth following most of the time, make sure there is a point to having interviewed this person for your listeners.
Ensure the listener has been on a journey, a meaningful journey otherwise you are simply filling in a half hour, hour or more of someone’s day.
Once we have reached to skill level where storytelling is the basis of our craft, we can start changing the structure. Maybe beginning with the endpoint then rolling back to see how this was reached.
How I Built This from NPR is a good example of this. We are supposed to know who the entrepreneur being interviewed is so we know of their business but not how they got there and that’s the point of the show. So beginning with the end is a workable way of doing things.
How we use music and sound effects to transition from beginning to middle to end is also a skill worth learning. I know how difficult this is from poor attempts of my own. But with practice it I am improving. Maybe the use of soundscapes is talent you don’t know you have, yet.
I’m thinking of doing a whole season the soundscape showing how I’ve moved from clunky and clumsy to a better understanding of the process. I’d love feedback on how you’re doing this and if you think it’s worth the effort.
And with that I’ll sign off this week. In episode 3 i will discuss podcasts I think do the storytelling thing well.