Team! Welcome back to Podcasting 101, the series brought to you by Google Podcasts and PRX. Sean Rameswaram here - to give you the essentials on story structure and writing.
Every great podcast is a well-structured story - whether it’s an interview…or a documentary...or just two people chatting. The reason you keep listening is because it takes you on a journey. That's why you need to think about structure no matter what kind of show you wanna make.
And the first thing you need for your story - any story - is great characters - characters that want or need something, and often are seeking something. They're on a quest.
Let’s take these two classic characters - Jack and Jill. They’re siblings and they’re on a quest to get something: in their case, a pail of water. But there's a hill they have to climb to get there. And the journey will be treacherous...
Good stories have a goal - and things getting in the way of the characters reaching that goal.
So Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
See how that works? And you know what else? This is a great example of chronological story structure - it starts at the beginning, heads to the middle, then comes to the end…
This is one of the three most common ways of telling a story - number two is a circular narrative: you start at the height of the action, and spend the rest of the story explaining how we got there.
Jack is lying at the bottom of a hill, and his crown is broken! His sister Jill tumbles down the hill behind him - ok how did we get here?!
Earlier in the day, Jack and Jill’s Dad asked for some water from the well… and so on...
And so then the story would basically play out from there in order.
Okay - number three - you can have a broken narrative, which adds a lot of context…
So Jack and Jill went up the hill - and to understand why they were going up the hill, you have to know this - there was a water shortage in Hilltown. The local mayor hadn’t invested in infrastructure,... and with no working faucets, families were forced to fetch water by hand from a well instead.
So - back to our story - Jack and Jill fetched their pail of water, but the dirt around the well was muddy… and so on…
Again, the story can play out from there - There are countless ways to structure a story, but these top three are a good start. Next time you’re listening to a podcast take note - you’ll be surprised how many fit into these three categories!
Ok cool - you’ve got great characters lined up, you’ve got your structure planned - it’s time to do some writing! Every show needs a bit of this, even if it’s just intros and outros, and you always want it to be super engaging!
There’s a lot to say about writing, but when it comes to audio, there’s one main principle to keep in mind - write the way you talk. It sounds easy, but it’s way harder than you think.
The fastest way to improve your writing is to go and tell a friend your story - and record yourself telling it. Take note of the words and phrases you use - and how you're naturally explaining something. The goal is to sound more like you and not someone reading from a book.
Also notice - Where do you start? What details do you leave out? What details do you leave in? Notice when your friend seems engaged. At what point are they saying, “Wow...and then what happened?” This is a great way to test your story structure as well as your turn of phrase.
It’ll take a bit of messing around to find the right order of things - and that’s why you gotta be heading over to the next episode of “Podcasting 101” where I’m gonna talk you through the ins and outs of editing all that audio into your compelling show.
Let’s make some cuts!