Episode 4: Bare Bones - 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 4: Bare Bones


This episode is a flight check: We’re making sure the underpinnings of our stories are tight and structured by utilizing the narrative arc, chronology, and framing. You’ll hear from Ira Glass, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sean Cole, and in a brand new interview, from Jonathan Mitchell of the radio-drama podcast The Truth. Jonathan explains his storytelling philosophy and breaks down the creation of one of his stories, “Naughty Or Nice.”

Listen to the show:

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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.

We also provide a written version of the show adapted from our scripts. You can find this week’s transcript here. 

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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)

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Find us elsewhere on the internet:

I’m on Twitter @jccabel, Producer Benjamin is @BenjaminFrisch.

This week’s challenge:

Get your ducks in a row: Do a Story Madlib.

Someone is motivated to do this thing he’s doing because of this…

but then this happens, and so he has to do this….

And therefore, this…which leads to this…and finally, you won’t believe it, but this

And the reason this matters to everyone walking the face of the earth is THIS.

Remember, as you lay out the chronology, to focus on conflicts, turning points, moments where there is a dilemma. If you’re missing hunks in the middle, that’s OK. Get as far as you can.

…and that last bit is for everybody. You want to check yourself now. Are you making a story that’s just weird or exotic, or does it have something larger to say back to the world?

If you’re making a character-centered work, you additionally want to make sure you’re clear on two things:

  • What is the spark?

  • And then define the question that it poses for the protagonist, that the ending will need to answer.

If you’re working in nonfiction, you may not know the answer to those two questions before you interview, but you can certainly identify the options.

The narrative arc chart from Drawing Words & Writing Pictures 

(I’ve talked about this book 3 times already. You might want to get a copy.)

(click to enlarge)


Next time on Out on the Wire

In our next episode, Episode 5: You’re Not Lucky, You’re Just Good, we’re talking interviewing and research. How can you get the best out of a subject? With more exclusive interviews from Robert Smith, Zoe Chace, Jay Allison, Ira Glass, and more.

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

Start Here