inside story

One Step Script at a Time
By Bonnie Swift

We don’t know who this story comes from, and perhaps because the author remains anonymous, listening to The Age of Consent feels like being on the receiving side of a confessional booth. This story is essentially a series of incommodious admissions, portrayed through a series of vividly-narrated, increasingly intense moments. 


In the interest of protecting the author’s privacy, This American Life’s senior producer Julie Snyder reads the story on the air. It’s recounted in the first person, and centers on the author’s teenage daughter’s first foray into sexual activity.


Like any great story, this one is told in such a way that it feels organic and spontaneous, but also like any great story, it is actually very carefully engineered. In radio in particular, a story’s design remains well hidden because so much of its power comes from feeling authentic, intimate, and spontaneous.


Combing the Dragon's Hair
By Bonnie Swift

I heard a story once about a professor who had trouble getting enrollment in a course, which was titled something along the lines of, ‘Representations of the Mythopoetic in Prose and Poetry.’ So few students enrolled that the course was nearly canceled. The following year he taught the exact same course, but this time he titled it ‘Combing the Dragon’s Hair,’ and it filled up right away. There was even a waiting list.

Last week we focused on strategies for framing our stories and capturing our listener’s attention. This week we’re focusing on titles. You know the old adage, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ It’s true, we shouldn’t judge people, courses, or stories by their titles. But we do, and so does everybody, because there’s something in human nature that gives tremendous weight to first impressions.