Out on the Wire is the show about making stories, step by step. Join cartoonist Jessica Abel as she breaks down the principles of storytelling and puts you on the path to crafting your own story—in prose, comics, audio, video—in any narrative art form, fiction or nonfiction. Featuring radio and podcasting star producers from This American Life, Radiolab, Planet Money, Snap Judgment, and many more. Listen, learn, and collaborate with us at jessicaabel.com/podcast to make something great.
Episode one is about ideas. We investigate how to find them and how to follow your taste with the help of Ira Glass, Alex Blumberg, Stephanie Foo, and more.
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You never know what your stories will lead to
Learn more about how I first started working with Ira Glass and the deep origins of Out on the Wire, check out my new blog post How Jessica Met Ira, featuring a story I drew for an alt-weekly newspaper back in the mid-90s.
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Includes full length interviews with:
Stephanie Foo (This American Life)
Jonathan Mitchell (The Truth podcast)
Larissa MacFarquahar (The New Yorker)
Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet)
Our edit with Robert Smith and Jess Jiang (Planet Money)
Rob Rosenthal (the Transom Workshop, How Sound)
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Find us elsewhere on the internet:
I’m on Twitter @jccabel, Producer Benjamin is @BenjaminFrisch
Besides our Soundcloud, we’re on Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest. We’ll be sharing some goodies and answering your questions—see you there!
Take a look around my website. Check out the great comics on Ben’s website. Find out more about experimental comics on Matt’s blog.
This Week’s Challenge:
- Come up with an idea for a narrative project. We’ve got lots of suggestions for way to generate ideas in the episode, and, if you’re working in fiction, you can try the juxtaposition game I used to create Trish Trash. Cut random words out of newspaper headlines, and combine them with random Instagram photos. Just whatever picture comes up in your stream. Write down whatever you come up with, no judgment. Or get the actual set of character prompts used to spark Trish Trash.
- Once you have a list of ideas, pay attention to your taste—which idea starts turning your wheels? Which one is keeping you up at night thinking about it? Which one are you telling your friends about?
- When a random association or notion attached to that idea comes into your head, chase it down. Research your idea by looking up related things online, or by questioning your friends about it, or by painting a picture. Get deep, and start attaching information and inspiration to it. You’re going to need a notebook with you at all times.
Your mission is to write up a short, one-paragraph description of your idea. Do not ramble! Just write what’s intriguing about this idea, and what directions it’s leading you in. What is starting to stick to it?
Also: name your medium. What are you intending to do with this idea? A fictional short story? A nonfiction brick of a book? A 10-page comic? A short video?
Make as many notes as you can, but don’t go further. In the next episode, we’ve got a bunch of tools to assess and strengthen your ideas. We’ll poke some sharp sticks at them, and see if they hold water.
Get a printable Google Doc version here.
Next time on Out on the Wire
We’ve got a workshop episode coming to you next week.
And then after that, Episode 2: Focus. It’s a doozy, we’ve got a couple of killer tools for you: The focus sentence and the XY story formula.
Plus, a story from Ira Glass about a reporting trip gone sideways, a visit to the transom workshop, and Jay Allison’s “slow radio” philosophy.
First, let’s go over how this thing works. Every week we pick a storytelling topic, like finding ideas, characters, or creative crisis, and I break down that topic using the never-before-heard audio I recorded during my Out on the Wire book research. You’ll be hearing from producers like Ira Glass as well as voices from Planet Money, RadioLab and many others. I believe that there are tools and strategies that are useful for all types of narrative media, for fiction and non-fiction, comics, movies, documentary radio, any medium you can imagine. We’ll be exploring those strategies, and at the end of each episode I’ll challenge you to put the things we’ve learned into practice.
We’ll have a new episode every two weeks, and in between, a workshop episode, recorded live, where Ben and I, with Matt Madden, discuss some of the most interesting material posted in the community during that week.
This week we talked about ideas. How to find them, and how to follow your taste. You heard interviews with Ira Glass, Jay Allison, Stephanie Foo, Alex Blumberg, and Jenna Weiss-Berman.
Here’s a transcript of episode one, it’s adapted from our scripts so it’s not quite perfect, but it should be useful if you’re looking for a written version of the show.