Sunday, November 19, 2006

NPR here I come

I went to a great workshop yesterday morning, sponsored by the Boston chapter of the National Writer's Union (a great organization that I highly recommend joining--they are a big help with contracts, and they're also into community building). The workshop was called Shaping and Taping, and it was about how to write and read a commentary for NPR and radio in general. The two leaders, Leslie Brunetta and Judah Leblang, are contributors to NPR and boy did they have a lot to say! Here are some highlights I thought my gentle readers might like to learn. A lot of them carry over to all kinds of writing:
  • Radio commentaries are generally 450 words, tops. So a big topic we discussed was how to get something meaningful out in so few words.
  • To narrow down an essay, pick one small thing about a bigger topic and focus on it. For instance, Leslie wrote a long essay on the name of our country and sir names shifting meaning. She narrowed it into a radio piece about how Italian names are often insults when translated directly.
  • It's easier to break-in to NPR with a topical newsy piece than with a personal essay. But you should bring something personal and different to newsy topics.
  • Pay attention to your train of thought. Your brain works differently from everyone else's, and that's what makes your story interesting.
  • You've got to tell the story in such a way that people who have been through it will learn something new, and that people who haven't will be drawn in.
  • Rhythm is really important. Reading your draft aloud is a must. Alliteration is important. (Hear that, Repeater?)
  • When you have a longer draft that you need to cut down, brainstorm about what the piece could really be about, and then shape it and cut it accordingly.
  • Ask yourself, Who's the main character? It could be an inanimate object, or even your train of thought, but it's important to identify the main character in order to shape your piece.
  • A lot of radio commentaries are told in the present tense. Even if you want to tell yours in the past, experiment with writing in the present.
  • Highlight all your sensory details. If most are on one theme, consider cutting those that aren't. Or if one detail really stands out because it's not on a theme, keep that and cut some others.

And we got a CD of ourselves reading an essay! Man, if I didn't know I talked fast, this was certainly confirmation of it. I read an excerpt of the essay I've just sent to Skirt. People laughed where I wanted them to, which is always a good sign. And there was something quite thrilling about hearing my voice reading my work on a radio-quality recording. Watch out, Terri Gross. :)

(I'll try to post the MP3 file if I can figure out how. If anyone knows, please tell me!) Best Blogger Tips


TI said...

Those are great tips. Thanks. I've got to get some scenes in mind for my documentary, and I'm sure that a lot of these tips will be applicable. Go for it, Bug!

Becca said...

You're right, these are good tips for all kinds of writing.

That sounds like a super workshop -I know I'm always surprised when I hear my recorded playing (I'm a pianist) and I'm sure I'd feel the same about my hearing my voice. It's a wonderful teaching tool, although it can be a mite disconcerting :)

Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your submission to Skirt!

January said...

What a cool workshop. Getting an essay on NPR is on my life list of things to do--that and getting into O magazine.

Thanks for the NWU link--I'll check it out.

Repeater said...

Thanks for the post. My husband's working on a radio documentary right now. I'm going to pass it on. So happy to hear about the alliteration, of course. Maybe radio should be my path too, hmmmmm?