In television news, you have little time to waste. There’s a set limit budgeted for your story, and anything more than five seconds over your allotment calls for penance, or at least a quest to seek special dispensations. When every second counts, you try not to waste any of the time you have – yet you don’t want to leave anything out.
Scarcity breeds process.
In my case, I developed a way of looking at the process of editing a story. You have several minutes of interviews, at least as many minutes of raw video, plus those pesky little things like statistics and facts that sometimes require other graphical treatment. How do you prioritize and get the good stuff into the piece?
I knew a reporter who had a standard operating procedure that was brutally efficient. He’d make several calls early on in the fact-gathering stage, and he’d know pretty much what his subjects would say once the camera went on. Every reporter does this, but this particular one would go ahead and write the story, leaving blanks where sound bites A, B, and C would go.
That process isn’t very organic, and it wouldn’t work for me at all. There were occasions when the reporter would start the interview, get the sound bite he needed, and conclude the interview. There was no room for follow up.
I had a process, but I couldn’t really explain it until I thought about candy.
The Retsyn Paradigm
…is not a name for a Robert Ludlum thriller.
It’s a way of thinking about one of the better marketing coups of my generation.
Remember those Certs commercials that promised how you would be kiss-ably fresh, if only you had that Glistening Drop of Retsyn?
Ever wonder why you never saw Retsyn-based breath fresheners and mouthwashes on the shelves at the drug store?
It has nothing to do with lost opportunity, and everything to do with the fact that Retsyn is not a flavoring, but is rather a vegetable oil-based coagulant.
Retsyn is the glue that holds the particles of candy together. It also has an exotic-sounding name, which made it a perfect selling point.
My goal, in writing a news story (and now in writing a blog) is to be the glue that holds the candy together.
Packing It In
Unlike candy, you can’t just grind and pour. A story, a narrative, requires a sensitivity to order, placement and ambiance.
First, you have to go through all your potential elements and strike the ones that are unnecessary. It could be a sound bite, a quote, a laugh, a smirk, a gesture, a piece of natural sound, or even a relevant observation. Identify the things that absolutely must be in the story.
Then cut the ones that you fell in love with, but really don’t belong. Tough love, tough luck.
Then start trying to lay them along the timeline of logic. Some sound bites clearly belong before others, either because of the presence of facts or assumptions that must be established first for the others to make sense. Shake everything out, and see what natural order is required for that element to make sense in context.
Be the Glue
Once everything that must be there is there, and once it’s in the right order, become the Retsyn that holds it together. Be the Glue. Look for the natural transitions between the essential elements – you might get away with butting them together, or you might have to spend a sentence or two bridging that gap.
If it takes too long to bridge the gap, then you’ve obviously fallen in love with something that doesn’t belong in the story. Cut it as well.
Once you’ve finished assembling the pieces and tying them together, go back through and look at the transitions you used. If there is a theme emerging within them, then see if you can rework the other transitions to fit the same theme. It might be natural progression, wordplay, or analogy. Work it, and make it look like you meant it to be that way the whole time.
A Sweet Process
I used the above for writing for television, but it also applies to just about every other form of presentation you can imagine. Weed out the unnecessary, and be the glue that binds those pieces. Be as spartan as you can, without showing off rough edges – and find a theme that makes your flavor uniform throughout.
Most importantly, be the glue. If you act like you are the candy instead of your content, then you’re doing it wrong.