Creativity is shrouded in romanticism.
It’s a commonly held belief creativity comes from inspiration.
Creativity isn’t magic. It happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing material.
- Kirby Ferguson, Author Director "Everything Is A Remix."
"See With Your Ears," is about story structure in podcasting and advertising.
The ideas presented in "See With Your Ears" are gleaned from my experience in radio, persuasion and podcasting.
The ideas in "See With Your Ears," are a moveable feast. They can apply to the creation of any story in any medium.
WHAT IS AN IDEA?
In storytelling, an idea is a thought that guides an action.
WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?
COPY TRANSFORM COMBINE
Courtesy "Everything Is A Remix" by Kirby Ferguson
Copying is how we learn.
We can’t create anything new until we are fluid in the language of our domain.
All artists spend the early part of their career producing derivative work.
We need copying to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding.
After we ground ourselves in copying, it's then possible to create something new through transformation.
You take something and create variations of it.
Thomas Edison didn’t create the electric light bulb. But made the first commercially viable light bulb after he tinkered with 6000 variations of filaments and glass configurations.
Transformation is time consuming but necessary. Transformation does not create original ideas. It simply improves on what is there.
The most dramatic creation comes when ideas are combined.
When you put together different ideas, creative leaps can be made.
Henry Ford didn’t invent the assembly line, interchangeable parts or the automobile. But he did put these three ideas together to create the first mass produced affordable automobile: the Model T.
Original ideas come from combination •
HOW DO I FIND IDEAS FOR A STORY?
Adapted from Kirby Ferguson's essay "The 4 Steps To Getting An Idea," The Remix Method.
1. Create a boundary (a box) in which to explore a subject •
2. Consume everything you can within these boundaries • Research • Gather • Collect • Capture • Categorize •
3. Study the material. Organize the material into a rough story form.
4. Now the best part • Drop it • Intentionally procrastinate • Do other things for a while • You define what a while is •
But a word of warning, after you move into the "drop it" phase, be ready, because ideas are about to pop up • Always carry a notebook or a recording device •
(If ideas don’t come up at this point, it’s probably because your boundaries are too narrow or too wide. Go back to step 1. Look at the box. Think about it. Do some tweaking)
5. After some time away, begin a first draft, a rough sketch. Don't worry about grammar (if you're writing) color or details (if you're drawing) or bum notes if your writing music.
6. Begin refining the draft, moving closer to a final version.
Mark every change in your draft with Rev 1, Rev 2, Rev 9, Rev 22 etc.
You need to be able to find your latest work and earlier work quickly.
HOW DO I WRITE A STORY?
There are many ways to 'make' a story. Here are three techniques. One or all may be right for your.
FREESTYLE METHOD •
Writing by the seat of your pants or freestyle method means that you write like you read – with no thought before you plow ahead and see where the story takes you. This is the most romantic version of writing. You sit at the blank page (or piano or sketch pad) and the words flow through you until “voila” you have an award winning novel.
I have a few audio-stories that came together this way, and it was energizing to write like this. It felt like the story was already complete and my job was to just unearth it.
This method is also wonderful for character development. Without a preconceived idea your characters aren’t stuck in what you imagined they’d be like.
If a character takes a sharp left in the story using this method, there’s no panic. You can go with it. Characters are able to evolve and grow more organically.
What Makes it Hard?
Most writers who use this method get stuck in the middle of their story. Everything is flowing nicely, and then you hit a dead end. The story feels like it’s going nowhere and you don’t know what to do next.
Another issue is lack of climax. When you go back to review what you’ve done, there’s no strong conflict or climax in the story. It reads more like a scenic train ride: a little flat, pretty long, and kind of boring.
INDEX CARD PLOTTING METHOD •
Before writing a thing, plot what happens in your story event by event, on 3 x 5 index cards •
Here's an example of how this is done •
It's a clear windless morning at a small seaside harbor. A guy and a girl go fishing in a beautiful 30-foot boat. They put their gear in the boat and go off to sea •
After two hours of chatting (and fishing) the guy and girl decide to go home. The guy starts the engine. Then he turns around •
And discovers the girl is gone •
Where did she go? The guy (in a panic) scrambles around the boat. He looks in the water. But there is no sign of the girl •
He gets on the 2 way radio. But it doesn't work
Back on land, on an empty beach, a boy (and his dog) find a pair of women's shoes have washed ashore • The boy and his dog pick up the shoes and run home •
At the local coffee shop, late morning diners watch a TV report about area women who recently vanished at sea • Only handbags or jacket or hats or shoes of the women are found •
At the sheriff's office, the phone rings and the sheriff picks it up. One of his deputies reports that a boy found a pair of women's shoes at the beach about an hour ago.
What happens next? That's your job as a storyteller. Start thinking.
After you map out all the story events from beginning to end, move the cards around. See what happens to the story.
You'll soon discover which events are unnecessary, which events are missing and which events should happen in a different order.
PLOT METHOD with INDEX CARDS allows you figure out what happens in the story and how it's going to flow before you sit down and write it.
Once the cards (which represent the plot) are going in a way you like (this can take a couple of hours or days depending on the size of your story) you can begin writing the first draft.
Once you're ready to write the first draft, stack your cards in order of the 'event sequence,' boot up your computer and start writing •
Don't spend a lot of time on the first draft. Don't fret about grammar or spelling. You'll be fixing those items later. Just get that first draft out and see if it makes any sense •
Expect to make revisions as you go from draft 1 to draft 7 and beyond • And take note, there can be a lot of 'beyond.' • I've written stories with up to 35 drafts or revisions • It's the nature of the beast • Number all drafts •
MOSAIC METHOD •
1. Write all the sequences in no particular order. Title the fragments with keywords so you can find them later. Each of these fragments needs to be separate folder. When the fragments stop coming to you it’s time to build a mosaic.
2. To build a mosaic you need glue. What will be the glue ? Does one character tell the story or is there a third person narrator or is the story told through multiple characters. Of if musical is there a motif you return to over and over. (Think Lawrence of Arabia)
3. In mosaic method, glue does not dry quickly, so you can move the fragments around a lot • Once you try mosaic method, you’ll know right away whether you like the method or not.
HEY WAIT A SECOND BUCKO!
I'm a visual person • I went to art school • I don't write •
Writing is about style and method • You can learn to write •
When it comes to a story, what you need to understand is structure and design •
DIALOGUE PROBLEMS •
When you're having trouble with dialogue, try this •
Have the character write you a short letter •
The letter doesn't have to reflect the story, simply a letter, as though the character was on vacation or reporting on recent events •
The letter writing exercise will invariably help release the real voice of your character(s) and bring you closer to how they speak •
STRUCTURE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND •
Courtesy Bob Rosenthal + Transom Storytelling Workshop •
We'll start small.
THIS IS THE STRUCTURE OF THIS AMERICAN LIFE • LONG FORMAT OVER 30 MINUTES •
One things happens after another. Then pause to A) answer direct or indirect questions posed in the first couple of events, B) remind readers, listeners, viewers why they are looking at this C) Give people time of absorb the chunks of the story •
THIS IS THE STRUCTURE OF RADIOLAB • LONG FORMAT *
Narrative, followed by a large series of "thought-objects," or "evidence," then back to narrative, followed by an expanding series of events, "thought-objects," or "actualities" then back to narrative, followed by even larger series of "thought-objects," or "actualities," then back to some kind of summation.
THE TROUGH IS THE STRUCTURE FOR ALL THINGS CONSIDERED • SHORT FORMAT 3 MINUTES AND UNDER • GREAT FOR FAST PERSUASION WORK •
The Trough uses a short setup, places evidence and information in the trough and goes to short summary.
V FORM IS THE STRUCTURE FOR THE STORIES ON MORNING EDITION • GREAT FOR FAST PERSUASION WORK •
Set up what the story is about • Put your evidence or actualities in the V • The lines to the right indicate all the people touched by the story or event or product •
SMALL e STRUCTURE •
The beginning of the line is the present or somewhere near the present. It may be a large dramatic event.
(Frankly, you can start wherever you want in terms of time, but the present or recent past is fairly common.)
And, typically, there’s a character doing something — a sequence of events.
At the point where the "e" loops up, the story leaves the present and, perhaps, goes back in time for history and or it widens for context.
When the loop comes back around, you pick up the narrative where you left off and develop the story further to the end.
Somewhere in that second straight line the story may reach it’s climax then the denouement or resolution of the story.
THE FISH •
In FISH structure, (more formally known as Lowry Homiletical Plot) events start out good and then get worse until you reach the mouth of the fish • The mouth representing the lowest one can sink • From the mouth the plot swings around and things ascend toward better fortunes • Once you reach the tail, you're on your way to happiness, peace or salvation • Fish structure is a useful way to stack bad news in an increasingly dramatic way • It also encourages a slow tempo • Sermons are often made using FISH structrute.
Long dead German novelist Gustav Freytag found that the parts of a story fall into five consecutive pieces:
exposition (Act 1. The beginning.)
rising action (Act 2.)
climax (Act 3.)
falling action (Act 4.)
dénouement (Act 5. The end.)
In long format stories, these parts become the five acts that comprise the whole.
HOW TO END A STORY •
1. CIRCULAR LOGIC.
The story circles back to the beginning. Even to quoting the opening sentence.
The story ends in a way you didn’t expect because it twists into an exciting direction.
3. THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS.
The hero learns something at the end. It could involve personal growth, change or the acquisition of new knowledge. ie. Good deeds rarely go unpunished.
4. THE EMOTIVE ENDING.
Leave the reader feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Tug at the heart strings. i.e. Although I took a beating, 2 blocks away the people I saved were reunited with loved ones whom they thought they would never see again.
5. THE REFLECTIVE ENDING.
Narrator steps back and reflects on what happened. He determines the importance of the experience. i.e. Years later I would reflect on the events. The blows that rained down seemed like feathers compared to the bombs that came later.
6. THE CLIFFHANGER.
The story ends with the reader wanting more, to know what happens next. Excite the reader to make them imagine what happens next for themselves. i.e. Then instead of the train arriving, the sky grew dark. Shadows appeared everywhere. That’s when he knew at once, they were enemy bombers.
7. THE QUESTION ENDING.
A question suggests the story will continue. The reader is provoked into thought. Leaves listener thinking after you have ended the story. i.e. He heard a gunshot and ran. Yet the second gunshot did not come. And he wondered what happened to the soldier chasing him.
8. THE DIALOGUE ENDING • TALK IT THROUGH.
The hero says something that give away something important about their character. Reveal something about the protagonist. i.e. “Take that boy!” said Sadie with venom as she whipped his ass. His head spun in pain. “Miss!” he yelled with as much nonchalance as he could muster. “Have you landed your first blow yet? Hurry or I’ll miss lunch.”
9. THE IMAGE ENDING.
Stop telling the story. Instead use an image which will stay in the listeners mind for a long time. Using an image can touch emotions and convey thoughts and feelings exposition can not. i.e. He waited in the restaurant, heard the chef smashing garlic in the kitchen and drank his coffee. Outside, child flinched each time the chef’s blade smashed down on the garlic. Then with more speed than grace, the child careered in terror crying.
10. THE FUNNY ENDING.
The funny ending is always memorable. If you make a person laugh, they are more inclined to remember the story. Take great care when working with humor. Humor is a highly specific talent and not every creator has it. Telling a joke at a party or enjoying standup comics is one thing. Using humor effectively in a story, is another.
Here's the basic theory behind humor. Courtesy 'Dilbert' Cartoonist + Author, Scott Adams •
The 6 Dimensions of Humor.
You have to use at least 2 of the 6 dimensions to be recognized as humor. You can use more than two dimensions for even better results, but two is the minimum. And it doesn't matter which dimensions you combine.
STORY DESIGNS 4 ADVERTISING •
(Politics, environmentalism, natural disasters, social injustice, war, refugees, famine)
3. ON THE BANDWAGON
(For those who work hard, this Bud's for you)
(Fan meets hero)
(Insurance, political, health)
(Beer, soda, wine)
(Investments, mutual funds)
(Candy bars, mattresses, pillows, destinations)
10. SEX APPEAL
(Fashion, expensive objects, luxury goods or services)
(Work-out programs, cars, liquor, luxury goods)
(Technical or procedural advances that give ordinary people access to power)
(Host endorses a product. "I'm Howard Stern and I love Snapple.")
14. TESTIMONIAL AKA MAN-ON-THE-STREET
15. GLITTERING GENERALITIES
(Makes use of logical fallacies. Employs appealing words about possibilities without giving a concrete idea what the ad is pitching. Often set in dystopian worlds)
16. EMOTIONAL APPEAL.
(Speaks to our wish to see ourselves as good)
17. PLAIN FOLKS
(Real people or actors appearing to be real people. Banks, pharmacies, fast food, foods of convenience)
(Tooth paste, laundry detergent, cleaners, sun-block, moisturizers, shampoo)
19. TINY IRONIC MOMENTS
(This unfortunate trick is used to frame a character or situation as ironic. "Don't kids say the darndest things?")
19. PAIN AVOIDANCE
(Pharmacy, health, pets, automobiles with new safety features)
(Anything that says "with up to 20% more.")
(I Love New York, I'm Lovin' It)
22. BECHDEL TEST *
(At least two women - with names - talk to each other about something other than a man.) * pronounced 'beck-dil.'
23. CELEBRITY PITCH
24. JOIN A MOVEMENT
(Bind a product or service to a social justice, environmental, urgent medical or identity politics cause.)
25. DOGS OR CHILDREN OR BOTH
(Dogs and children are perceived as cute and cuddly • Stories featuring dogs - or animals - and children test well in research. There are hundreds of thousands of ads featuring dogs or children, and sometimes both)
26. STARING AT SCREENS
(TV screens, smart phones, computer screens, tablets. You are looking at a screen, watching people looking at a screen. This is meta-advertising. Do you really want to go there?)
27. THE VIGNETTE
(A series of beautiful or dramatic images relating to a service or product. Often cinematic or pseudo-documentary in style. The people who appear on-camera never speak. The voice-over often assumes a remote or distant emotional stance as you would hear in a documentary. The vignette commercial style often employs vintage field-recordings of folk music or uses a grand film score technique.)
28. SLICE OF LIFE
(Consumers are shown experiencing a product or service in an exaggerated or upbeat manner. If the on-screen characters speak, they enthusiastically extol the virtues of the product or service. Slice Of Life favors a variety of locations and people. The music is upbeat and the controlling emotion is defined in one word. Fun.)
Of course there are more advertising story genres than listed here. You can combine genres • It's a good thought experiment and sometimes it MAY work •
But be careful, you can easily create a train wreck •
A Brief History of Podcasting.
In its original form, the RSS feed was only able to syndicate text. However, by the time 2000 rolled around, Adam Curry, media personality, and developer, worked with Dave Winer, software developer, to change the feed so it could also include larger media objects, including mp3s. Winer created the software to aggregate feeds from multiple sources. By early 2001, he had used nascent technology to aggregate The Grateful Dead songs.
New Technology Advancements
The advancements didn’t stop there. Winer showed his software to a colleague, Christopher Lydon, in 2003. Lydon was a journalist who had been conducting audio interviews and inserting them as mp3s in his blog posts. Winer referred to this as “A weblog for the ears). Once Winer’s technology was incorporated in Lydon’s posts, readers were able to subscribe to the blog and access this audio content automatically. Just a month later, Harold Gilchrist, a blogger, referenced this audio-rich blog when he was hosting a session on “audio blogging,” at the very first BloggerCon.
The Modern Podcast is Born
Thanks to Lydon’s success, Curry was able to develop the prototype of the software that allowed the audio to be downloaded by users and then passed to iTunes and played on mp3 players. To test the software, Curry launched the “Daily Source Code,” which many argue is the first podcast in August of 2004. Within a month of it being aired, the New York Times reported that people were “podcasting” from Sweden to Australia to the US.
In November of 2004, during BloggerCon III, Curry led a session on “audio blogging,” as well as “podcasting.” During that same month, the very first podcast hosting platform was launched and called Libsyn. The Public Radio International hosted the very first daily news podcast in 2005, and then in June of this year, Steve Jobs made the announcement that podcasts (an entire podcast directory) would be offered in the 4.9 version of iTunes. By December, “podcast” was the word of the year in the New Oxford American Dictionary.
The Continuing Rise of Podcasting
By 2014, Apple had more than one billion podcast subscribers, and this number is still going up. According to Edison Research, 48 percent of all Americans know what podcasts are and 30 percent have listened to them in the past. Since then, several installment podcasts had been produced and distributed, including “This American Life,” “Serial,” and “S-Town.”
Podcasting is becoming a primary source of information and entertainment and can be beneficial for anyone – individuals and businesses. In fact, it is often a powerful marketing product if you are trying to increase knowledge of your business, service or product.
PODCASTING: THE INTIMACY THESIS •
The Intimacy Thesis is the notion that podcasting’s fundamental value as a media experience, lies in its capacity to create a uniquely intimate relationship between the show and the listener.
For the first time in human history, the spoken word now has as long a reach and as long a duration as a book.
And, like a book, podcasting technology allows you to start and stop and go back and listen again •
Podcasts fall under one of two umbrellas. The regular garden-variety podcast. And the branded podcast. Where they reach a fork in the road lies in the role sponsors play.
Regular podcasts have one or more sponsors to whom they are not thematically beholden.
Branded podcasts contain a theme softly related to one sponsor and one sponsor alone. Below are three of the best examples of branded podcasts. None sell the listener a product, but rather, make their pitch by association.
Great storytelling takes time to create and time to incubate •
Write for 3 hours a day • Any more and you'll burn out •
Go outside everyday • Get away from the work of creation • Turn off your phone and computer •
Your work will be better for it and so will you •
In case you missed it click on the PodPlanet chimera below and enjoy •
All stories between 83 - 100% true •
Subscribe • Share • Instagram @pod_planet •
Available on Apple 🍏 Podcasts or where ever you listen to podcasts
A proud member of PRX + AIR •
NPR + RADIOTOPIA Contributor •
Questions or comments? I can be reached in the comments space below •
To learn more about COPY TRANSFORM + COMBINE see
EVERYTHING IS A REMIX
by filmmaker essayist Kirby Ferguson •
Click on T Shirt below •
For more information on Transom Radio Workshop, click the icon below.
SEE WITH YOUR EARS. by Clive Desmond