What Makes A Great Story?

One of the best ways to really understand how audio can be used to create stories is to listen to some great examples. One of the assignments for this week was to “pay very close attention to not only the stories told, but how they are constructed in audio format”. The two pieces that I listened to were “Moon Graffiti” and “Getting Away With It” by This American Life.

While listening to Moon Graffiti, I took notes on what I was hearing that stood out to me. Here is a snippet of the notes that I took:

(the arrows represent a new thought)

starts with chaos → beeps → static → loud crash → silence → somber audio → background of audio man is giving helps visualize the place being in outer space → muffle voices, sighs/grunts/breathing help to build suspense and sense of being there → narration like what Ira Glass talks about → background music makes the story have different elements → 8:27 thumps make me question what’s going on (part of what Ira Glass talked about)

The story was very compelling, believable, and made me be able to actually visualize what was going on. The audio in my opinion was very effective in telling their story. The way they used sound effects and layered sounds helped make the story seem like it was happening in real life because you hear what you would expect to hear in real life. An example of this is when the two characters have muffled voices and you can hear them sighing, grunting, and breathing heavily. This helps sets the scene of what the characters are doing. The audio at the beginning with all of the chaos sets the scene up for the listener as something important and urgent is happening and builds up suspense. In addition, one thing I noticed is how there was an intro scene to grab the listener’s attention, then it goes into the narration of Johnathan Mitchell explaining a bit of background into the story to help the listener connect meaning to the story before going back into the story. There also is a transition point where Mitchell is still talking about the background but has added audio sounds to help connect to the story and transitions into a scene change.

I also listened to Getting Away With It to further build upon what makes a great story? There was a prologue along with four acts that each had a different story on someone getting away with something they did. Again, here are some notes I took when listening to the story:

(the arrows represent a new thought)

  • First story (in the prologue) I am confused about → understood parts of it halfway through though → don’t understand “seats being broken”…
  • Act One pick up of music → start the story → music changes scenes → narration → sequencing
  • Act two background music gives to the story (hard to describe)
  • Act three → use of tone gives excitement → back and forth narration
  • Act four → background before going into story → overlapping audio of speakers → music adds an element to story

*for this audio I had to end up listening with my eyes closed to try and help visualize and hear what was going on better so that is why my notes aren’t very detailed

All of the Acts are different stories/segments on the topic of things that people got away with. In my opinion, some of the stories I found made more sense and were better put together. I noticed in the prologue that there is a back and forth of narration between the narrator and the “interviewer” that helps create the story. Listening to the story again helped me gain a better understanding of what was going on. Adding in music at different intervals helps create a separation of thought/idea or pause for emphasis on a certain point before going into another idea. The prologue had the sense of a podcast and then goes into the program by explaining what the entire show will be about.

Again, it is hard for me to express in words, but the use of background music that is under a person narrating the story helps make the story whole by creating a mood and a specific atmosphere and can also help change scenes.

We're Halfway There: Iron Yard Halfway Celebration - Hypepotamus

After listening to these two different audio pieces I am better able to understand WHAT can be added to a story to make it great, but I still do not know HOW someone knows when to add something into the story to make it great…this makes me feel like I am only halfway there. Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure that out, and if anyone has any sources that could help me answer this question comment it below!

2 Replies to “What Makes A Great Story?”

  1. I love your thoughts on Moon Graffiti. I agree with you 100% on the believing in everything that is happening. I thought the same thing while I listen to the recording. I mention the exact same thing about the chaos in the beginning being suspenseful. Keep up the good work! I love your blog.

    1. Thanks! It is crazy to me how much audio can really play a role in storytelling and how sound effects add so much more to the story.

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