Surface Tension

Intro from Jay Allison: Nine students recently completed the Spring 2013 Transom Story Workshop and they uncovered wonderful local stories. Their work is a real lesson not only in storytelling, but also in story finding. We asked each student to pick one of the pieces they produced during their time here, tell you about how they discovered it, and chronicle their challenges in producing it. They also picked one of the “Sonic IDs” they made, which are good ones. Most of this group had never produced before, so prepare to be inspired by what they accomplished.

Listen to “Surface Tension”

About “Surface Tension”

There are few things more frustrating as a storyteller than having to decide whether to press forward with a story idea that’s giving you trouble or admit defeat and move on. There’s no formula for weighing those options and neither is easy. But persistence is rewarding. If you find yourself struggling with a story, don’t rush to think about the other ideas you could be pursuing. Instead, push harder.

 I picked a fight with my story. It was an under-covered issue in a town pretty far from Woods Hole and most people didn’t like discussing it. I thought my background in environmental reporting would make the process fairly smooth. Turned out it was much more complex and sensitive than I expected. When I started hitting snags — fishermen and property owners refusing to talk with me, officials canceling interviews — I worried I was trying to tackle something that I, an outsider, wasn’t fit to cover. 

It took some tussling, but I pulled myself out of that rut by taking another trip out to the town, asking different sets of questions of different people and rethinking what I was capable of doing with the piece. Rather than approaching it as if there was one right story to be told, I let my new tape guide me. It helped. The final product was more honest and more nuanced than what I would have produced with my original game plan. And I’m really glad I didn’t abandon it for something else, whatever my expectations going into it were.

 Stay skeptical, but know when to give your ideas the patience and respect they deserve. You dug up this interesting thing, your counterparts helped you vet it, your pitch got approved — those alone can be steep barriers. Keep that in mind when the realities of gathering tape start to set in. Show it some love!

Derek’s Sonic ID

Listen to “Derek’s Sonic ID”

Sonic IDs are a pure joy to create. Executing them is something of an art, but you don’t need much more than a recorder and a healthy curiosity to gather them. People get funny, weird, insightful, poetic when you put a mic to them and show genuine interest in what they’re doing, even if it seems totally ordinary. 

I heard Becky playing her concertina around the corner from where I was staying and I knew she’d be fun to talk with. What made her exciting was that she had recently discovered the instrument and spoke about it in a way a longtime player probably wouldn’t. And then, of course, she nailed the melody line she’d been working on.

Listen to More Pieces from this Story Workshop Class

Derek Hawkins

Derek Hawkins

Derek is an independent journalist and radio producer based in Brooklyn. He spent four years as a reporter covering policy and politics for web news organizations in Boston, San Francisco and New York. At a time when the news business is narrowing, Derek believes radio is more important than ever in helping people understand each other and their communities. You can listen to more of Derek's work on PRX and on his website. Derek is a member of AIR. And you can also follow him on Twitter.

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