Storytelling Strength Lies in the Details

24 hours at the Golden Apple uses quality storytelling and the elements of radio to create a surprisingly visceral listening experience.

This American Life’s storytelling success is the product of their keen attention to detail and their willingness to follow the thread of interviewees’ thoughts past their initial comments to the underlying reasons and justifications, the wellspring of their comments.

The crew’s attention to detail is apparent while covering the dessert case.  The reporter, possibly Glass or Updike, was aware of their surroundings enough to focus on the oddity of a non-rotating glass case.  They were familiar with the diner, or diner culture, enough to notice that a still case is a broken case. It’s an unusual detail with which to set the scene.  This detail mimics the observations a listener might have if he or she were in fact a customer.

This example also provides the reporter with the opportunity to ask the owner about the significance of the busted case.    The shows reporters and producers could have easily left the case as a piece of specific description, a scene-setter, but they chose to inquire about the consequences of this detail.  The listener is exposed to the economic repercussions of the broken case:  people buy less deserts.

Whether it was an intentional move or not, the inclusion of this detail also sets up the entire story.  The audience is given a cue that the story is a series of details and experiences which all have deeper significance.

The crux of good storytelling is made possible by excellent sound bites, such as the butcher’s “a bandsaw has no friends.”  A quote like this says something about the speaker as well as the initial information they wish to communicate.

This American Life effectively used all the elements of radio in this story and by doing so created a much more dynamic piece of audio.  All of their immediate sound bites had warmth and immediacy.

At one point, Danielle and Allison attempt to pick up their friend and the sound is slightly worse but it works in the story.  The listener can imagine sitting in a car watching one of the girls run up to the house and try to convince the friend to come out.   The constant ambient sound, gathered or in the back of interviews, really keeps the listener cemented in the diner with the reporter.

At times the transitional music doesn’t quite fit the tenor of the story.  It certainly changes the scene but can feel artificial, too unnatural for the subject of the story.

However, occasionally hearing the reporter’s voice interacting with subjects worked to establish a feeling like the listener is really present in the diner.


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