Intro from Jay Allison: This piece was produced as part of the Transom Story Workshop Fall 2015 session. Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.
About Driving In Circles
Coming from the world of print journalism, I always believed in the adage, “Everyone needs an editor.” Here’s what I learned at Transom: Everyone needs eight editors. Or nine. Or ten.
I’d spent a lot of time before Transom researching an idea for my final project, and felt that I had a pretty solid grasp on the angle that I wanted to pursue. Because of my background reporting on transportation issues, roundabouts fascinated me, and I had come up with a clever angle — the psychology of driving through an intersection — that would take a seemingly boring topic and make it interesting.
But somewhere in the reporting process, I lost that thread. I had conducted a slew of interviews with the major players: selectmen, engineers, police. I had made public document requests to get letters, intersection studies, crash reports. I had even tracked down someone who had experienced a crash at the intersection I’d focused on. But when I sat down and wrote the first draft, what came out sounded more like a plain, meat-and-potatoes city council story than the interesting yarn I had imagined.
That’s where editing came in. Being edited is scary in any context. But when you’re in a room of people sitting in silence and listening to your (wholly imperfect) work booming out of speakers and bouncing off the walls — bracing yourself for the comments that you know will undoubtedly make it clear that your piece is not perfect — it can be a whole new level of heart-in-throat intimidation. But what makes that experience great is when you are in a room full of experience that you trust, deeply — you trust their taste and their criticisms, but you also trust that their critiques are coming from a profound faith in your potential, and the potential of your story. And one thing that makes Transom such a special community is that everyone in the program is just as invested in your success as they are in theirs.
After listening to me explain my story idea many different times, my classmates knew the kind of story that I wanted to produce — and when my first attempt fell a little flat, they advised me on how to shrink the gap between my big idea and my actual script: move sections up or down, pare down the number of voices, spend more or less time explaining things. I had to kill a lot of puppies (radio parlance for cutting beloved bits of tape). Those cuts were really hard, and sometimes I had to be told by two, three, even a room full of people that the cut was necessary before I believed it.
Without exception, the criticisms made my piece better. And they made me better.
Martine’s Sonic ID
I got this sonic at the Wellfleet Oyster Festival, when I was on the hunt for interesting characters. I stopped to interview this man, because he had such an excellent voice. But later, nothing jumped out at me as a magic moment. While putting it together, I learned that less can sometimes be much more … particularly, that by cutting away lots of talk, you can find a special kernel that you hadn’t noticed while recording. The “surprise” in this sonic — discovered after cutting my 12-minute interview into a few tiny nuggets of tape — gave me an opportunity to have a little fun!