Back in the early aughts, I recall telling students the pronoun “I” was verboten in radio stories. Don’t talk about yourself. Don’t refer to yourself. The story’s not about you. In fact, I would joke saying, “‘I’ is under lock and key.” Indeed, this seemed true of much of what aired on public radio at the time.
I still believe that’s the right approach. A high bar should be set before employing “I” in a story. That said, I’ve loosened up a bit over the years. I now think judicious use of “I” proves useful on occasion. Sometimes, hearing the reporter offers a bit of transparency and acknowledges their presence. Other times, a reporter might use “I” to provide observations and context that characters in stories can’t provide. And then there’s the “follow the reporter’s journey” approach to storytelling which requires “I.”
These days though, with the exception of news, it seems like there’s no more lock, key, or even a shelf to put the “I” on. “I’s” are everywhere, especially in first-person storytelling — from The Moth and Ted Talks to whole podcasts like the first season of Millennial.
Even Neil Sandell has brought out his “I.” Neil worked at the CBC for a good 30 years. In that time, he says he never produced a first-person story of his own (though he produced lots of first-person stories for others). Neil’s story “Air,” produced in 2016, is the first time he’s used “I” in a story he’s made.
He’s seen the same change I have and on this episode of HowSound, Neil lays outs some good ideas for how to make a story stand out as well as stay true to the basics. To hear more of our conversation about non-linear storytelling, listen below.
Also, on this episode I feature the entirety of Neil’s short version of “Air.” But here’s a link to a longer version that offers an interesting comparison. By contrast it’s more relaxed and offers more details about Neil’s relationship with his father and to “stuff.” Have a listen here.