Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story

Before I start, you have to understand a couple of things: 1 - I love radio and 2 - I work with kids.

More specifically I love the radio for the stories. There is something inherently better about stories when someone tells them to you; the stories breathe and have life where they don't if you are reading them. The person telling you the story brings with them all the experiences they have and emotions they feel when telling that story.

I discovered a radio station called The Moth. The moth is an organization of story tellers who put on shows around the United States. They record their stories and put them on the radio. The show quickly became a favorite of mine. With each episode, I was guaranteed three things: I would laugh out loud, something would make me cry, and I would learn something. The Moth has two rules: the stories have to be true, and you have to tell them from memory (no notes are allowed on stage).

The Moth lead me to the PRX (the Public Radio Exchange) and more so, the PRX remix app. The app brings you the best from PRX and the best thing is you can listen to up to an hour of content off line. 

On my way to work one day, I listened to a story from a mountain climber who was involved in an accident which lead to the amputation of both legs. The story stuck with me and when one of the kids said something that reminded me of that story, I told it to them. The longer the story went, more and more kids gathered around to listen. By the time I was done, there were 10 (maybe 15) kids around me waiting to hear how it ended.

Ever since that day, I have brought the kids a story and through that experience, I learned a few things.

First off, don't do comedy. In most cases, the things I find funny aren't funny to the kids and more importantly, it's hard to tell a funny story that didn't happen to you. Secondly, there has to be a risk. Nobody has to die or get hurt (in fact the best stories are the ones where everyone walks away), but there has to be some risk involved to heighten the stakes or the kids wont be engaged. Thirdly, the time between the climax of the story and the end of the story should be no longer that 50 word (10-15 seconds). Any longer than 50 words, the kids start to think there will be more action that happens. And finally and most importantly, NEVER LET THE TRUTH GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY! The stories I tell the kids are all true stories I heard on the radio, but if there is something I know will keep the kids active in the story, I add it. Or if the ending of the story doesn't work, I change it. I tell the kids, "Every story I tell you is routed in truth, but these are second hand stories and all I can do is try to portray the honesty to which they were told to me." 

I do my best to craft stories as they were told on The Moth, but regardless of how big the audience is, they should want to laugh, cry and learn something. 

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