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Writing Like a Podcaster: Some Resources

In many ways, doing oral history for podcasting combines a number of writing practices, including ethnography, news reporting, and narrative nonfiction. In previous classes, I have provided students with guidelines for podcasts scripts, imploring them to include scholarship, consider organization, and articulate transitional elements. But I haven’t offered much—really any—instruction on how to write podcast scripts. Script writing is consequently quite intimidating, and the first drafts of scripts invariably lack structure, liveliness, and a sense of story. In short, they feel like academic papers—and we all know that scholarly work read aloud rarely produces what NPR calls “driveway moments.” As I move into the next iteration of this class, I plan to spend at least a couple of class days on writing style. Here’s a few resources:

  • Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio, by Jessica Abel. Written as graphic nonfiction, this book features advice from producers of This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Snap Judgment, and others. In brief, readable form, they discuss story structure, developing characters, creating emotion, and more. Fantastic resource for undergrads.
  • Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart. With chapters on Structure, Voice and Style, Character, Scene, and more, this book will be invaluable for helping students to develop lively scripts. I can envision using the chapters for writing workshops in which students work together to develop scenes, characters, and more.
  • Reality Radio, 2nd Edition: Telling True Stories in Sound edited by John Biewen and Alexa Dilworth. This book offers essays by radio producers, who reflect on the distinct work of informing and telling stories through sound. The book offers more historical and cultural context than the others I’ve listed here, thinking through radio’s history as a populist medium and exploring the democratic impulses of sound documentary. The essays offer commentary on story structure, conventions, various ways to use sound, and more. The book’s fantastic companion website includes links to podcast episodes discussed in the essays as well as other multimedia resources. This collection would make a great companion to my Podcast Listening assignment: students might read one essay by a podcast’s producers, listen to that particular podcast, and present to the class.
Written by

Emily is Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Theatre at Allegheny College. She is a media ethnographer, Emily frequently employs oral history methodology in the classroom in order to engage students in the community and deepen their understanding of how media infuses everyday life. She is particularly interested in digital storytelling and using oral history to foster community engagement. She is the author of Skate Life: Re-imagining Masculinity and Mothering through Precarity: Women's Work and Digital Media, with Julie Wilson.

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