Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Wisdom of Ira

It's no secret that I'm a fan of many shows on National Public Radio. None more than This American Life with host Ira Glass. If you're not familiar with the show, they pick a theme each week and then present anywhere from one to four stories based on that theme. You can download podcasts for free at www.thisamericanlife.org Start on the Our Favorites page. They won't steer you wrong. And the first season of their Showtime television version is available on DVD.

Saturday night Colorado College played host to Ira Glass. Since Nicole and I had previously expressed our admiration for Mr. Glass (okay, we both have crushes on him), we bought our tickets and went to see him. I wasn't sure what to expect. The ticket said it was a lecture. What would he lecture us on? Politics? The state of public radio?

Storytelling. And that's the thing about the radio show. They are all great storytellers. And Ira showed us just how they do it. Part of it is the music used underneath the stories. But that's a small part of it. The voice talent is another part of it. Ira Glass, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell and many more. But those are pretty specific to radio. The biggest parts are what we can use in our writing every single day.

Here are the highlights:

--"Tell stories about people others can relate to." Not over-the-top larger than life cardboard cutouts. Who cares about them?
--"Keep the action moving forward." That's what causes 'driveway moments' in public radio and page turning in fiction.
--"Allow for all emotions." The most compelling stories aren't just moving or funny or tragic. They are all of those things and perhaps more.
--"Anecdote/reflection." This is equivalent to scene/sequel in writing. Here's the event and then here's how the event relates to the bigger picture.
--"Good narrative can save your life." Okay, this was said specifically in reference to Scheherazade and the 1001 nights, but I think it still applies to all storytelling.

He was very funny and charming and informative. All with the flu and a fever. Which was a lesson in and of itself. If people show up to hear you, then you should still entertain them no matter how you feel.

So now I'm going to see if I can take these lessons and apply them to my own writing. I already know that the right voice is important, even for words on paper. And maybe I can even try to do the written equivalent of putting the right kind of music under my words.

1 comment:

Marie D-W said...

As I said before, I think radio, especially public radio, can teach a lot about telling stories because they don't have pictures to help them but just words (and of course voices and music) I've listened to This American Life a few times and once they get you, you're hooked on whatever story they do, no matter how quirky (and they get very quirky). It sounds like fun to go and actually get to see Ira Glass perform.