journalism, life, movies

Enjoy it while it lasts: Woody, Ira, and the kindness of strangers

Inevitably, I will post at least one of the seemingly numerous videos available of Ira Glass telling people how to tell stories. But until then, I’ll stick with the video above. It’s a clip from a Woody Allen film.

If you haven’t seen his Hannah and Her Sisters, I’m spoiling things a bit by putting it here; I think of this as the climax of that movie, though we can debate that.

But when I watched it—and, especially, heard it—I couldn’t help thinking of Ira Glass. The tone, the delivery, the tics and timing of the narration. The actual story, as told. I suspect that our Mr. Glass learned a lesson in storytelling from Mr. Allen’s films (as many others have).

In fact, the pacing and sequence reminded me of how Glass structures his stories. As Glass said in an interview conducted for Current, a public broadcasting publication:

This is the structure of the stories on our show: There’s an anecdote–a sequence of events. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. And the reason why that’s powerful, I think, is because there is something about the momentum, especially in a medium where you can’t see anything, especially in radio. That you just want to know what happens next. It’s irresistible. You just cannot help but want to know what happens next.

Then, there’s the part of the story where I make some really big statement like there’s something about the kindness of strangers. Because you can’t just have an anecdote. It’s got to mean something. You can have people read the little story from the Bible, but unless you tell them, you know, the lesson they’re trying to draw from it, it’s not a real sermon. And radio, in particular, is a very didactic medium.

The way that we’re taught to listen to it is, I think, largely from news shows, where they’re constantly telling you: here’s what happens, here’s what it means. And so we’re used to that. And if I didn’t say, “There’s something about the kindness of strangers,” this story just would not be as satisfying.

So the way that my staff and I talk about stories is we talk about, okay, what’s the anecdote and then where’s the moment of reflection. And we structure the stories like that, over and over and over.

Now watch listen to that scene with Woody again.

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