The Art of (Personal) Storytelling


booksI have been podcasting for four years and broadcasting for 20, but later this year we will release a new Taste Trekkers podcast that will be on a whole new level for me.
 
In my last blogpost, I talked about how I decided on the format for the forthcoming Taste Trekkers: Food Travels podcast. Essentially, the format will use a storytelling-with-interviews format similar to that of This American Life and Serial. This is a departure from the one-on-one interview style (a la Terry Gross or Charlie Rose) that I have been doing up to this point. In particular, both editing and writing are about to become a much more important part of the podcasting process.
 
 

Editing

I have competent audio editing skills, as well as a great new producer in James Clausen. But up until now, my podcast editing has focused primarily on removing “ums” and “ahhhs” and other mistakes. With this new podcast, I will be editing for storytelling effect for the first time. In some ways, this is new terrain for me. I am not a journalist or storyteller by trade. I have interviewed dozens of celebrities over the years, but that’s not the same skillset. And the my on-air radio broadcasting has taught me to fire off a snappy one-liner over the five-second intro to a Katy Perry song, not edit together a lengthy story.
 
Here’s a sample of me on the radio:
 

 
However, there are a few things in my background that will help me here. First, I have dabbled in screenwriting as a hobby over the years. I never took it seriously enough to pursue as a career, but I invested a good amount of time in reading books on the craft and trying my hand at a few scripts of my own. In fact, I am a huge fan of great screenwriting when I watch television (I am more of a TV afficionado than movies). Some people are fans of particular actors or directors. I am a fan of screenwriters. Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, and Steven Moffat are among my favorites. So I have been paying a lot of attention to writing for a long time, and I think that will help me with this new podcast.
 
Almost ten years ago, I also came up with the original concept for a documentary film about gerrymandering. Although I ultimately parted ways with the director before the film was made, I learned a lot in the process. Early on, I headed out to Texas to conduct a series of audio interviews with legislators and other experts. We cut these interviews together to create a trailer for the prospective film. In the course of doing that, I learned a lot about the rhythm of putting together audio.
 

 
 
Finally, I am doing a lot of research on Ira Glass’ production process for This American Life. A fellow podcaster in the Podcasters Google+ community turned me on to this article. I am following many of the steps here, including taking notes after each interview and having the interview transcribed. We will also be storyboarding each episode.
 
 

Writing

Which raises the question of what each story will be about. I am very conscious of the fact that the reason Serial is such a binge-worthy listening experience is because there is a continuous narrative that runs throughout all twelve of the episodes. You learn about the characters involved in the story, include the host, Sarah Koening.
 
Unfortunately, my new podcast will not have a continuous arc because I interview new people from a different place in each episode. I am the only person who will be in every episode. Which means if we are going to have somebody that the audience can identify with, I must carry that burden.
 
This is new for me. I have been in front of a microphone for twenty years, but relatively little of my personal story has come out in that time. Although I have always used my real name when broadcasting on terrestrial radio stations, I don’t actually talk about myself much. And you could listen to my first 100 podcast episodes without learning very much about me.
 
But I’ve decided that one of the keys to the success of this new venture will be to allow some of my own personal story come through. Frankly, that’s something I am not entirely comfortable with. While I do think I have an interesting personal story — fraught with unique obstacles and unusual adventures — I am very concerned about finding the appropriate balance between not enough Seth and too much Seth. I don’t want to be too shy or too self-centered.
 
I know that the key to finding the right balance will be soliciting feedback. I plan to use Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to test early versions of podcast episodes to see if it’s resonating with audiences or turning them off.
 
I think the overall story will revolve around my journey as a new Taste Trekker. I am traveling the world to learn about food and I’m still new to it. Frankly, I’m not always that good at it. I’m making a lot of mistakes in my journeys, and I think my audience might be interested in hearing about those mistakes. So I think these will often form the backbone of the stories in different episodes.
 
Storyboarding parts of my own life will be new for me. It will require me to think of myself as a character. Just writing that, I feel a twinge go through me. The concept runs the risk of being inauthentic. But I think what it’s really about is sharing a part of me with the audience. Of couse, I can’t share all of me in these episodes, so we’ll have to pick and choose which parts of me to share. I’m curious to see which ones I decide on.



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