Storytelling is at the heart of our lives — it’s how we teach and learn lessons, create art and take away a listener’s breath with an enthralling podcast. On the flip side, a story is like oiled-up Silly Putty: Just when you think you’ve got it, it starts slipping and sliding through your grasp.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to tame the storytelling beast alone. Here are 10 incredible storytelling resources to help you master your podcast narrative.
If the conflict in your story merely allows your character to show their skills, or stretch them, you’re only halfway there. Try cranking up the discomfort, forcing your characters to dispense with whatever baggage is hindering them, and build themselves anew.
— Dean Movshovitz, Pixar Storytelling
There’s a reason Pixar films have brought in over $6 billion in box office revenue: They understand storytelling in a way few other films studios do (animated or not). Not only are Pixar stories imaginative, they’re also effective.
Every moment has a purpose, and every mini arc is building on the larger story arc. Plus, their stories teeter the fine line between a movie for children and a movie for adults, proving it’s actually possible for a film to have mass appeal.
The hero can’t be lured, tricked or drift into act two. The hero must make the decision himself.
— Blake Snyder, Save the Cat
Full disclosure: This is a book written for screenwriters. But it has great advice on character building, story pacing and getting to the heart of a story’s “big idea.” The Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics section — which are transferable to stories of all types — is worth the price of admission alone.
Your Favorite TV Show or Movie
Take note of the scenes that make you gasp, laugh, reflect or bring you to anger. Then watch the show or movie again, and analyze how those scenes played out and the events prior and following that helped generate your emotional reaction. How would the scenes have played out with different characters? Did the setting play a role in evoking emotion?
Bonus Tip: Try watching your selected scenes with your eyes closed. How did sound design help bring the scenes to life? How could it be improved in an audio-only format?
We start music where a sequence of action begins or starts to build. It adds to the drama. And you always take out the music when there’s a big idea that you really want people to pay attention to. You lose the music so it stands out.
— Ira Glass from Out on the Wire
Presented as a graphic novel, Out on the Wire offers sound advice (no pun intended) on storytelling from the masters themselves. Ira Glass of This American Life, producers of renowned storytelling program The Moth, and others offer their wisdom on how to tell compelling stories through audio.
It’s good to have a subtext, but it is also important not to allow that to interfere with the central story. There has to be a simple, linear ‘surface level’ for the casual listener.
— Tim Crook, Radio Drama
Radio Drama takes a scholarly approach (I’ve seen it advertised as a college textbook) to audio storytelling. If you can wade through the dense writing, you’ll come out with loads of inspiring insights on directing, sound design, writing and overall production quality.
Beware of having your hero simply play out the plan. This gives you a predictable plot and superficial hero. In good stories, the hero’s initial plan almost always fails.
— John Truby, The Anatomy of Story
This is another book geared toward screenwriting but has tons of great information for stories of all kinds. And the author John Truby knows his stuff — he’s worked as a story consultant and script doctor for giants like Disney, HBO, Fox and plenty others. Through examples from popular films, John divulges the 22 steps to becoming a master storyteller.
The interesting thing about inner demons — our issues — is the fact that the drama ensues not so much from them, but from our inability to cope with them.
— Larry Brooks, Story Engineering
This book presents what author Larry Brooks calls “the six core competencies of successful writing.” From concept to scene execution, Larry provides sharp commentary on how to make your story fire on all cylinders.
We mostly encounter the edited versions of other people, while we are continually exposed to the unedited version of ourselves. The unfair comparison means we inevitably feel much weirder than we really are.
— Small Pleasures, part of The School of Life series
Sometimes we get so wrapped up trying to bring the big moments of a story to fruition that we forget to breathe life into the smaller ones. Small Pleasures is a collection of 1-3 page essays on the blissful little details of everyday life.
From the joy of staring out the window to our secret thrill of knowing someone else is completely wrong, these short meditations offer colorful and thought-provoking insights into the human experience. The book also serves as a wonderful example of tight, concise storytelling that brings these small pleasures to life.
We need stories to temper our anxieties, either as supporting messages to stay as we are or inspiring road maps to get us to take a chance.
— Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
If you really want to get in the sandbox and dig around the nooks and crannies of storytelling, this is the book for you. Shawn breaks down stories through an editor’s eye, offering in-depth commentary on structure, genre, storytelling theory and the Story Grid, a tool he developed to analyze stories. If you only get one book about storytelling, make it this one.
Your Own Life
They say to write what you know, and for good reason: inside you resides a deep well of storytelling material. Draw from it.
The uncertainties of starting a new job, lessons from your grandparents, shower thoughts, the feeling in your stomach when you go over railroad tracks, bad dates, good dates, losing a loved one, adopting a puppy — if you’re looking for story material, you don’t have to go any further than your own mind.
Pull the truths, triumphs, failures and sticky details from your life experiences and inject them into your stories.
These 10 resources have been a huge help on my journey as a podcast storyteller. What resources have helped you? Share your top three in the Podcast Movement Facebook Group.