Episode 2: Focus - Jessica Abel
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Answer these 10 quick questions to uncover the real reasons why you’re not able to take control of your creative work.

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Episode 2: Focus


How can we know if an idea is a good one? This time on Out on the Wire, we investigate how to refine story ideas using the focus sentence and the X/Y story formula. Plus, Ira Glass recounts a reporting trip gone sideways and Jay Allison’s takedown of formulaic storytelling.

Listen to the show:

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And if you’re subscribing via iTunes, please leave us a review while you’re there! It helps others find the show, which will make our creative community stronger. Leaving a review on iTunes is easy. We walk you through it here. If reviewing is just not your thing, please share this show on your social media platform of choice, or just tell your friends about it! It really helps us out.

If you’re looking for the transcript, you can find it here.

Let’s make great stories.

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Out on the Wire Bonus Pack


Check out the Out on the Wire Bonus Pack. Featuring all of the new interviews we conducted for the show, plus our soundtrack music by Matt Madden. It’s ten bucks (or more, if you’re feeling generous.) It’s a great way to spend more time with our fabulous guests and support the show.

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)

Get the pack!

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:

Your mission is to craft a focus sentence or an XY Story Formula, or, even better, both, for your narrative project. 

Remember, a focus sentence is:

Someone does something…



and the XY story formula is:

I’m doing a story about X…

and it’s interesting because Y…

Your first try, like mine, might be kind of enh. But just because your focus sentence isn’t any good doesn’t necessarily mean that your story is no good. Dive in again and make it better.

Where can you seek the magic that Soren Wheeler wants for Radiolab stories?  What is the universal question you’re addressing? Bring all that back to your focus sentence and your XY, and build your plan to go forward. This is your path into more focused research and deeper interviews.

Next time on Out on the Wire

In our next episode, Walk in my Shoes, we delve deep into characters. We’ll learn about what makes a good character and how we can make characters that connect with an audience. Plus we’ll learn about how to make a story about animal conservation compelling, what Ron Paul can teach us about storytelling, and the unexpected consequences of a story about Ira Glass’s dog Piney.

Ira’s handwritten notes from his day out with the twin principals:

IRA handout for class - oakland story_Page_03IRA handout for class - oakland story_Page_04


Answer these 10 quick questions
to uncover the real reasons why you’re not able
to take control of your creative work.

Start Here