Writing

Out on the Wire

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The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio

Possibly the best guide to all kinds of writing published since Anne Lamott.   It focuses on This American Life and its ilk such as 99% Invisible
The Moth , Planet Money ,  Radio Diaries ,  Radio Lab , and Snap Judgement .

The care and attention to detail by the producers of all these programs is an inspiration. The techniques are spelled out by Jessica Abel, who manages to make an intelligent, fast-moving read out of the details of radio production of narrative non-fiction. The attempt here as with the best non-fiction is to present the truth, honoring those who are interviewed and whose stories are being told, in as dramatic a way as possible.   Abel is such an enthusiast for these programs that I hope she has not glossed over their failings. Reading the non-fiction graphic narrative that she has created it feels genuine.

This book grew out of a previous smaller publication Radio: An Illustrated Guide, that was written at Ira Glass’s request to be sold on This American Life‘s website in 1999.

The method that TAL  developed was to use storytelling technique to make non fiction radio essays.  According to Abel, what these shows have in common is that they ask big questions, concentrate on engaging characters with authentic voices and use a robust narrative structure with careful use of sound.  TAL has not just influenced radio but the state of written non-fiction and documentary film as well.

The structure idea is the sentence: “Somebody does something because_____________________ but______________________.  It is a story about_______________ and it is interesting because_____________________ .  After recording hours of interviews, many of these journalists plan their interviews, but still have to structure the story. Using different kinds of scenes, but each story is put together so that the listener always wants to know what is coming next.  On top of that the stories are driven by the journalist’s itches and interests , and structured and edited by the taste of the individual in agreement with the group.  The different programs have different styles some not using any commentary or sound.

.Also check out Transom Story Workshop  for more information on the technique.

Noli timere

Death Montage“Judt, James and Didion are shot through with the element that defines great art: they speak truths that the rest of us recognise but are unable to articulate.”

Mick Heaney, son of Seamus, writes about writing about dying.  Referencing many favourites.

In his book Without Feathers Woody Allen has a line that has become one of his most famous quips: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Like all the best humour, the joke is accompanied by a sense of recognition.

It is almost an article of faith for people to say that, far from fearing death, they are reconciled to it. But Allen’s joke hits on an uncomfortable truth. Read more… 

McCarthy (Cormac) and Punctuation — Don’t

McCarthy-Lamp“James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

1. Quotation Marks: McCarthy doesn’t use ’em.

2. Colons and semicolons: “Oprah says she “saw a colon once” in McCarthy’s prose, but she never encountered a semicolon. McCarthy confirms: ‘No semicolons.’ ‘You can use a colon, if you’re getting ready to give a list of something that follows from what you just said. Like, these are the reasons.'”

3. All other punctuation: “I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.”

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