Barf Draft With An iPhone

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For years, I’ve given this advice: when you’re having trouble figuring out how to write a story, tell it to a friend. Tell someone who doesn’t know anything about it. Just call them up or invite them out for a beer and spill your guts.

As you say the story aloud, notice what you say and how you say it. There’s a good chance the way you told the story to a friend should be the way to tell the story on the radio.

Bradley Campbell agrees completely. But Bradley asks: Who needs a friend when you have a smart phone? Just record your story into the phone, and then transcribe it. He calls it a “barf draft” (a term he borrowed from a colleague).

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Bradley is a producer at The World. He’s recorded “barf drafts” into his phone for several different stories he’s produced. He swears by it, especially when he has a short deadline.

Once he’s “barfed” the story into his phone, Bradley loads the file into his computer and writes it out word for word. He says he now has a semblance of a story. And, even though it’s incredibly rough, it’s valuable for a number of reasons. The recording captures your normal speaking voice in a way that just writing narration on a page doesn’t. Second, it often gives you a natural storytelling structure.

Next, Bradley reviews his interview tape to look for quotes to fit into the story. This is the opposite of a more common approach where you find the quotes first then “write to the tape.”

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Once Bradley inserts his quotes, he further cleans up the narration he transcribed from the “barf draft,” then grabs his editor and they run through it together. He told me his editors typically only find minor issues with his stories when he uses this method — a tweak here, a tweak there.

The results? Well, listen for yourself. On this edition of HowSound, I feature clips from a “barf draft” of a story Bradley produced about an OK Go video as well as the finished piece so you can hear how his initial draft turned out.

*Thanks to artist Jenny Junker for the illustration.

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  • nicole

    2.15.15

    Reply

    rob: you are killing me! so of course the show was great but you never closed the loop. what did you think of the barf
    method? did you try it? 🙂

  • Rob Rosenthal

    2.15.15

    Reply

    Hi Nicole, At the end of this episode, before the “outro,” I use a bit of tape I recorded, or should I say “barfed,” into my phone. Did you catch that? Or, to answer your other question, I’m very much in favor of the barf method. I’ve always recommended to students that they tell their story to a friend who doesn’t know anything about it and note what they say, how they say it, and what the listener says about it. I think recording what you say to the friend might be best. Or, alone, like Bradley did. Thanks for listening!! — r

  • ademack

    2.16.15

    Reply

    Tried this for the first time the other night, and I like it!

  • Emily Richardson-Lorente

    10.20.15

    Reply

    I wish this technique had a different name, but damn, it works! I’ve been using this “barf draft” technique for four months now — usually when I’m walking my dog — and it’s been incredibly helpful. Thanks a million!

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