Skeletal Stories

The stories that made up 20 Acts in 60 Minutes were rather entertaining; some were funny, others heartfelt and sad. However these qualities are not what strikes me most about each of the individual acts. What really caught my attention was just how bare-bones each of the productions were. The narration was minimalistic, dealing primarily with a single speaker. When a second speaker was added it was mostly to allow for a small degree of added complexity. The amount of time spent passing around the story telling responsibilities, or including separate lines that took place outside the narration was a very good indicator of just how involved the story was. The simplest story I remember was told by a child in the course of a sentence, the only other speaker in that act was the story-tellers brother who was responding to the story. Compare that to one of the longer stories, dealing with the man who sat next to the printer. This act had a narrator along with a host of speakers, each with only a few lines, all talking about the unnoticed man by the printer. The contribution of all these separate voices deepened the idea that no one really knew the man the piece centered around.

The necessity to leave the story almost entirely to a single narrator most likely comes from the medium the acts were produced for. The narrator’s voice conveys some amount of humanity, allowing the audience to relate to them, and therefore the narrator becomes a character in their own right. In other words, since the narrator is heard as someone relatable they can’t be purely detached. Combine this with a very short story and you only really get one character.

Another minimalistic approach I noticed in the acts was that the focus was always placed solely on one object, person, or event. In each segment there were no extraneous details, only discussions on and descriptions of the thing that the piece centered around. Sometimes that thing was a person, other times it was an event that happened to the speaker. I think that this narrow focus on the subject of the story is what allowed for such powerful, quick stories.

The combination of limited narration and tightly focused stories allowed This American Life to showcase a host of raw, personal stories. Stories like this stick with people because all there is to them is the point or the punchline.

-Rory Coble


~ by rbc12 on January 31, 2011.

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