This American Life producer Brian Reed’s storytelling tips (Wired UK)

As a producer on the award-winning radio show and podcast
This American Life, Brian Reed is in the business of
telling stories. A successful story, he tells the audience at The
Conference in Malmo, has to have three key elements: action,
reflection and stakes.

Even the most boring story can have motion to it, says Reed, and
this is what causes us to tune in in the first place. We’re
hardwired to naturally perk up when we hear it, because the motion
of the story pulls us forward. But it is not enough to have action
alone.

The moment after the action, when we hear the narrator’s
reflection and how they feel about the situation is when we as the
listener start to really relate to them. “That’s really important
because that’s the moment in the story that we get inside the
person’s head,” says Reed.

He plays the audience a short story which ended in a comical
case of misidentification. The protagonist apologies, but knows the
more he says and tries to explain himself, the worse he is making
the situation. This is a feeling we all understand, points out
Reed. “That’s what makes it worth telling on the radio.”

The final element, the stakes, can also make or break whether a
story is worth telling. Many stories that are pitched to Reed, he
says, lack something for the listener to root for. The stakes keep
you invested. He relays one of the most successful episodes of
This American Life which followed the story of Oscar from
Guatemala, who found out in his thirties that his whole family was
murdered and that he was kidnapped as a very young child. He also
found out that his biological father was still alive and living in
the jungle. When the production crew spoke to Oscar’s biological
father, he describes how he attempted to drown his sorrow in
alcohol after finding out his family had been murdered, but how he
found out his sorrow could swim. “Only he could have that insight
and still that insight is a universal insight,” says Reed.

Storytelling is a very old form and also an impulse within us,
he continues, but “a good story should make a larger point about
human experience and the world”.

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20 August 2014 | 3:52 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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