Last week I had coffee with Cara Solomon, a former journalist for the Seattle Times and founder of thesmallstory.com. Cara’s site is based on a premise that I believe in deeply: that everyone has an interesting story to tell.
Through Cara I uncovered a treasure trove of tips and tricks for my storytelling project. Among them, these were my favorites:
On unraveling a new town:
– Visit community gathering spots: often the town diner, coffeeshop, or park, and sometimes (surprisingly) the town dump.
– Ask strangers: who should I hang out with if I want to get a sense of what this town is about?
– For ideas on what to cover in town, as well as who the players are, read the events and help wanted sections of the local newspaper.
On choosing a topic:
– Be flexible: if I try to fit everything into a mold, I will miss out on a lot of great content.
– Approach interviews with as few preconceived notions as possible. Listen hard. What I thought might be most interesting thing about a person at the start of the interview may not be what I find most interesting at the end. That said, if the story is not holding my interest, it will not hold someone else’s; cut my losses and move on.
On hero stories:
– People like hero stories however they’re not rooted in reality. Everyone has a weakness, and it’s that weakness that makes them even more interesting. Discover it.
– Ask: We already know what you’re good at, so what do you wish you were better at?
On dealing with an interviewee’s anxiety:
– Focus on the person, not my questions. Many reporters don’t take out notebooks until later in the interview.
– Explain to people why it is that I’m interested in speaking with them.
– Don’t introduce the video camera without permission, and don’t use the tape to simply recap the interview. Instead, after the interview I should ask myself: what are the five questions that I now want to answer? Use this as my starting point for the taped segment.
I know that Cara’s advice has saved me from making countless mistakes on my journey, and I feel fortunate to have been introduced to her. I also particularly love Cara’s reflection on her work. Writes Cara: “Through the lens of their lives, I can see more clearly my world.” Here’s to the small stories.
Great stuff, good luck on your journey.
Nabil Laoudji says
Thanks Amit ;) Look forward to following yours as well-
Nabil, the town dump is an amazing place. My father always comes back with the news of the town as well as plenty of “treasure” from the swap table. I love what Cara writes–that is my feeling about art in general, as well as the view it offers onto others’ worlds. There is so little opportunity to share and to reflect…I’m so glad you’re doing this!
Nabil Laoudji says
Hi Rya — I never knew the town dump was such a social hotspot. Thanks for your comment, and for your words of support-