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Process: Essay vs Story

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Sep. 10th, 2013 | 02:45 pm

I spent Sunday and Monday adapting my essay, Kalighat, into a five-minute story to tell at The Moth StorySLAM in Chicago last night.

When I first started putting the story together, I worked from the end backwards. While I was driving, I started speaking the ending aloud, playing with different word choices, trimming the details until I had what felt strong and clean. Then I went backwards, picking out the story elements that needed to be in there to lead to the ending. I repeated the story over and over again, working in chunks, until I had a rough verbal draft.

The next day, I wrote out what I had in my head. Then I went back and checked the original essay, looking for good phrasings or word choices that I wanted to put into the verbal story. The Moth favors a more casual style, and I wrote the original essay in a literary style. I had known two phrases I wanted to make sure I got in - "Kali dancing on the battlefield on the corpses of the slain" and "The answer is 'once'", and I pulled a couple more literary elements.

For the next draft, I went through and trimmed down the word choices. Based on the transcript of my last Moth story, I knew I only had about a thousand words. Using contractions, swapping out multi-syllable words for single-syllables, and cutting out excess description, I took out another 200 words. It got more casual.

It was still 9 minutes long. I cut some flowery description at the beginning, figured out a new transition that got me into the heart of the story faster and cut out the number of physical locations. (It's much tougher for a listening audience to follow location shifts--they can't go back a paragraph if they're a little confused).

In my kitchen, I taped it twice and got it to six minutes--still too long. But it was time to go, so I printed it out, put the sound file on my iPod, and drove to Chicago, working on it the whole way. By the Indiana border, I was at five-and-a-half minutes, which is inside the grace period.

Things I noticed during the evening -
 - I was the only mostly-dramatic-with-moments-of-funny story--everyone else was straight-up funny, or funny-with-a-realization.
 - One guy had great delivery, and a really funny subject (being tethered to the internet by our devices), but it didn't have a plot, and the judges scored him lower. It felt more like stand-up.
 - There were a lot of great beginnings, and some solid middles, but very few stories had a strong ending. And that's what we're leaving the audience with, that's the lasting impression. I think it helped me that I'd actually started working from the end, and tailored the rest of the story to drive the listener to the inevitable.

(I won).

Want to listen?



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Comments {15}

Your Face

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from: kandigurl
date: Sep. 11th, 2013 04:10 am (UTC)
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Well done, congrats on the win! I listened to it, and now I think I'll read for the differences. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 12:12 am (UTC)
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Thanks! BTW, I am terribly remiss in getting back to you on your pages--I've been carrying them in my bag since May. Thanks for your patience :)

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Your Face

(no subject)

from: kandigurl
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
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It's all good. I know what it's like to get super behind on a project, I'm not worried about it. It's a gift and I am patient. :)

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Sep. 11th, 2013 04:57 am (UTC)
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Congrats!

Also, that's a cool way to do an edit, working your way backward. I will have to try that with some of my own writing sometime.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC)
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Thanks! I'm debating trying it in a book next!

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Andrea Blythe

(no subject)

from: blythe025
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
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Whoah. That would be an interesting challenge.

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tigrkittn

(no subject)

from: tigrkittn
date: Sep. 11th, 2013 02:11 pm (UTC)
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Congratulations! That was fabulous.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC)
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Thank you!

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drwex

Hell yes I want to listen

from: drwex
date: Sep. 11th, 2013 06:59 pm (UTC)
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Mazal tov on the win. I'm impressed you can edit something like this without some kind of audience feedback. I have to tell my stories TO someone in order to edit them, even if it's a friend. I edit a lot based on the reactions I see.

Now I have listened and your voice is not even a little how I imagined it. That's not bad, but a statement about how I envision things.

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whipchick

Re: Hell yes I want to listen

from: whipchick
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
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Thanks! I think it comes easier with practice--I've got an acting background, so I'm used to delivering things out loud to myself :) And I did do it in the kitchen with my friend, and you're right - it points up more issues when someone else is there.

How funny about the voice! I wonder if that means I don't write in the same voice I speak in...

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drwex

Re: Hell yes I want to listen

from: drwex
date: Sep. 12th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC)
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Few people write in the voice they speak in. I was surprised at how much Neil Gaiman does write as he speaks (or vice versa). I have a pretty deliberately affected voice i use for storytelling that is different from my usual voice.

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Cos

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from: cos
date: Sep. 28th, 2013 02:43 am (UTC)
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I just finally got around to listening, and it wasn't until the end that I recognized it as something I must've read in your LiveJournal in the past ... which I'd forgotten you linked to at the beginning of this post.

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Vice Captain of the Universe

(no subject)

from: sweeny_todd
date: Nov. 6th, 2013 03:14 am (UTC)
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heyhey - just checking in that all is ok in your world?

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Nov. 7th, 2013 09:58 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) Yes, it is - I had a rough summer, but things are a lot better now, and I've been a bit slammed as far as blogging, but it's good busy. I'm in Dubai right now, working, and taking my mom to Thailand next. How are you?

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Vice Captain of the Universe

(no subject)

from: sweeny_todd
date: Nov. 7th, 2013 11:52 pm (UTC)
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yay for some mum time! I will be seeing my fam in feb.

I am good! settled, throwing myself into work. not loving that it will be cold, but that is what I get for living in a place with 'seasons'.

glad you are doing better :-)

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