Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review of Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

Books in graphic form are not just filled with superheroes, Japanese manga, or women in push-up spandex bustiers. Occasionally, you can actually learn something.  Writer/Cartoonist Jessica Abel’s new book describes the ins and outs of producing radio shows at NPR. The oral medium of storytelling is well suited to graphics, especially in Abel’s creative hands.

Although the book focuses on NPR, the information applies to writing in general. Whether producing a podcast or novel, the creative processes overlap in several ways. Oral and written storytelling requires solid ideas and finding the right voice. Each needs a logical structure and a way to make audience care. As with fiction, the best stories come from “following some itch.” Catherine Burns, artistic director of the program, The Moth, makes a comment any writer can relate to. “The simplest way to say it is...who are you at the beginning and who are you at the end.” That’s Storytelling 101 for any writer.

In both podcasting and radio much time is spent determining structure, and Abel makes some interesting observations. Scenes in chronological order is the default, but not always necessary. Some stories start at the end in order to grab listeners. Screenwriters use a common hook. When a hero faces impossible odds, the screen goes black, and words such as Twenty-four Hours Before appear before the story takes a backward leap. Radio can do the same thing. Or as one producer notes, the structure is less important than what catches the audience and makes the story sexy.

Abel also includes practical advice for those wishing to attempt their own podcast. Getting started is surprisingly easy. A person needs a digital recorder, a set of headphones, a good microphone, and quiet. And no—the built-in mic on an iPhone won’t cut it if you want the interview to sound professional. More important is a little gumption. Mic placement is key. You have to shove that mic in a wazoo for an interview that’s up close and personal.

The function of sound and music also get noted. Music can highlight a story. Obvious spots for music cues are introduction of a new character or description of a feeling. As one producer says, music can be used to “shine a light” and be a “dousing rod” for hidden moments. Just as important is to note when sound or music are distracting. “You always take the music out when there’s a big idea that you want people to pay attention to. You lose the music so it stands out.” 

This is good book for anyone with curiosity about the work behind radio broadcasts or has an itch to create a podcast of their own. The simple graphic layout makes the explanations of the different facets of story construction easily understandable to the layman, and the cheery rah-rah, you-can-do-it attitude will encourage the beginner to take the first step.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

No comments:

Post a Comment