On Podcasts and Writing
By Nick Chhoeun
In the life of a commuter, the many hours of idle time require something to keep one’s mind entertained. It takes me about a half hour to get to work every day, and another forty minutes to drive to AU (unless I metro, then it’s almost an hour), and I can’t imagine traveling in complete silence. Often, I choose to listen to music to occupy my mind but more recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with podcasts. I know that I’m a bit late to the game but I want to praise this medium. After all, many podcasts consist of people telling stories.
When I first started listening to podcasts, I generally stayed in the comedy category with shows like “If I Were You” hosted by Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld, and “Doodie Calls with Doug Mand” hosted by Doug Mand and Jack Dolgen. “If I Were You” is an advice podcast. Hurwitz and Blumenfeld take their own life stories and wisdom to give humorous yet helpful advice to their listeners. “Doodie Calls with Doug Mand” is according to the podcast description: “talks with comedians about their most embarrassing and horrifying bathroom attacks and other unflattering experiences.” Their show is all about telling of true and embarrassing stories with numerous guests. These stories are successful because the writers are storytellers. They create tension and suspense ahead of each story’s climax.
More recently, I began listening to “This American Life” after Professor Rachel Louise Snyder recommended this show to her creative nonfiction class. Ira Glass hosts this show. The show’s website says the show is, “journalism, but an entertaining kind of journalism that’s built around plot. In other words, stories!” I immediately became a fan of this show and its method of storytelling. The show takes a theme and constructs real stories around it. A variety of people tell these stories and the creators of the show provide research and evidence on the topics covered. The people telling the stories do so in a very striking manner while the producers use music to emphasize certain emotions and ideas.
As writers, we understand the importance of reading our work out loud. To write a story and to verbally read one out loud effectively are two different skills. Yet in many ways, these skills influence one another. For example, the musical interludes in “This American Life” could translate, in writing, to the mood conveyed in a setting description or piece of dialogue. The pace at which the storyteller chooses to read a piece can directly relate to the lengths of the written sentences and the complexity of their diction.
These podcasts are examples of how to powerfully read stories on a variety of topics. As a writer, I’m remembering what I’ve learned from these podcasts when I decide on the structure, voice, and language of my own work. To give my writing a stronger effect on the page, I’ve begun looking at my writing as something that is meant to be read out loud. I’ve only scratched the surface of the podcasting world. I intend to sample a variety of others and explore the many methods of telling stories.
Want to keep to keep reading about podcasts? Check out Nancy Kidder’s post about the link between podcasts and storytelling.
Nick Chhoeun is a staff editor at Café MFA and a second-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.