My first draft script was 25 pages long. And it was boring.
This story was supposed to be fun. I had set out to make an amusing, playful piece about one of the biggest jerks in American history. But somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that Myles Standish was just a jerk. There was too much nuance. Too much gray. After weeks of tireless research and 10+ hours of interviews, I came to know the full Myles Standish story. A story that sprawled across 400 years and thousands of characters — the pilgrims he protected, of course, as well as the people he murdered, the people he allied with, the people who opened his grave in the 19th century, the people who opened his grave in the 20th century, his descendants, etc., etc.
I knew too much. And I wanted to cover it all. Because my listeners deserved to hear the full story! Even if it bored them to tears.
Then we got this email from Rob.
Shorter is often better. Really.
Nothing is more elegant than a tight, compact, well-written, well-quoted, pop-song of a story.
I think more often than not, there’s an inner desire to want to include everything. And not everything is important.
Remember that thing I talked about in class — about walking down a path and you find a gold coin. The next thing you do is look for another coin. That’s what you want for a listener. Give them a gold coin and then another.
Make your stories a path of gold coins.
My story — not a path of gold coins.
I called my friend, Transom classmate Scott Christy. It may sound obvious — to get someone else’s perspective when you’ve pretty much lost yours — but it’s never easy to show someone your lousy work.
So I showed Scott my (lousy) work and together we ruthlessly cut characters and scenes and backstories and details.
Then I cut some more . . . and some more. And I was left with — not a whole lot. Maybe three minutes of tape. I hadn’t realized it, but most of the tape I had loved so dearly was actually, for one reason or another, not serving my piece. In order to tell a tight, compact story, I would need to do most of the talking. That tore me up a bit — still does — but the piece is better for it.
- Your story is bound to change. Mine certainly did — even though most of it happened 400 years ago. I recommend you revise your outline as new developments emerge. And keep an audio diary.
- Show your work to others and show it often, even when it sucks. Wait, scratch that — especially when it sucks. Don’t wait for it to be polished and perfect. Share the rough stuff. No matter how much it makes you cringe.
- Sometimes you’ll need to do the talking. Nobody gets into radio because they like the sound of their own voice. We believe the good stuff is the tape. But when your characters don’t tell the story well or when it takes them too long, you’ll need to buck up and do it for them.
- Don’t just kill your darlings — also kill the stuff you think you need, but actually don’t. Storytelling is about making decisions — tough decisions — about what people need to know in order to understand your story and enjoy your story. Everything else is just boring.
*Photo of Buddy Tripp, the Myles Standish reenactor at Plimoth Plantation. Photo by Annie Sinsabaugh.
Annie’s Sonic ID
My advice for making sonics? Talk with your face.
People like to be acknowledged when they’re speaking. Your instinct will be to say “yes . . . yes” as they tell you a story or to laugh when they tell you a joke. Don’t. It might ruin your tape. Instead, do it with your face.
Hear something hilarious? Clench your lips like you’re doing everything you can to hold in a laugh. Something shocking? Raise your eyebrows and keep them up for a few seconds. Maybe even mouth, “oh my God.”