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.
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