Oct. 30 2015

Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel

In honour of my first radio story this week (3:57 to start, if you’re interested!), my book this week is a graphic novel about storytelling, by Jessica Abel.

The foreward is by Ira Glass from This American Life. If you have any hesitations about picking this up, his name should assure you you’re making the right decision.

The book follows Abel as she embeds herself with radio journalists from podcasts such as Radiolab, This American Life, Snap Judgment, Planet Money, The Moth, Serial, and Invisibilia. Her years of research takes us behind the scenes.

Abel is a talented graphic novelist, with titles like La Perdida and french title Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars already under her belt.

She’s also worked with Ira Glass before. In 1998 he called and asked her to put together a book called Radio: An Illustrated Guide. It showed how podcasts were put together, and her experience making that means that she was already familiar with the medium when she made this latest book, Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio.

One of the greatest things about this book is that it’s not just a guide, but is non-fiction storytelling itself. Abel goes from podcast to podcast, talking to the creators and watching them actually work through storytelling problems as they prepare for air.

We get an insider view at the lifestyle, the workflow, the editing process, the art of ‘signposting’ and how stories get put together.

It even gives us some tips as to how we can get out of the dark ‘German Forest’ of editing – that’s when you’ve collected all your material and feel so buried that you get lost in your own creation. Great tips for me!

Abel’s reflection in the epilogue is on point. She says she feels she needed to read this book in order to finish it. So solid was the advice she got from the radio storytellers on distilling meaning form life, and re-bottling it into the essence of story.

Anyone who wants to be a storyteller should read this book. There are some parts – like foley and sound editing – that are radio specific, but most of it focuses on how to give meaning to people’s narrative. Relevant to any writer.