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Hints of what you’re about to learn– what will make your Narrative Oral History so deliciously seditious is that it contains 5 major unacknowledged design features that are not taught anywhere else:

  1. There’s no moral voice telling you when someone has gone too far. There’s no one to say, “Stop, you’ve done enough!”
  2. No one says I remember, it’s constantly in present time. It’s not a remembrance, it’s a cocktail party, with the reader feeling they are overhearing history for the first time.
  3. Scenes start in the middle of the action; in Please Kill Me, Scotty Asheton, drummer of the Stooges. says, “We were hanging out in front of Discount Records. Spitting on cars….”

In Tomorrow Is Canceled, Marguerite Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother says, “You know, Lee, I am getting ready to write a book on your so-called defection…”

The object is to keep the reader, so compelled by the story, that the back story can be worked into the train is pulled full speed ahead by the locomotive that is the historical narrative.

  1. For example, we tell the back-story as we charge forward. It’s got to be forever charging forward; “Oh, our drummer drowned in the bathtub, we gotta keep going, get a new drummer….”
  2. It’s important to follow physical objects that pass between people, like Dee Dee throwing his 007 knife to Stiv Bators onstage as a tribute to the Dead Boys. Later, when Stiv is hanging out with Sid Vicious, Sid hears that Dee Dee gave it to him, and asks Stiv is he can have it. Stive tells him no, but goes with Sid and Nancy Spungen to a knife store in Times Square so they can purchase their own 007 knifes. That is the knife Nancy was stabbed to death with. So, if we follow physical objects from one person to another, we can tell the bigger story in an intimate way.
  3. And most importantly, you have to be very, very adept at always returning to the virgin transcripts, to make sure we have people quoted as saying actually what they said. Sometimes I would over-edit, and later would return all the quirks I’d removed, the, “you knows,” and, “Such degradations,” and all the pearls that came out of their mouths. It is absolutely crucial to maintain the integrity of the voices, which is why constantly returning to the virgin transcripts is so essential– to see if you missed something important the first time around. Or the second or third time around.
  4. Conflict is good, especially when we see a friendship, a love affair or business relationship dissolve over time and end up into a street fight or a nasty, bitter quarrel by both parties– as it will keep reader reading just to see what happens. It’s a very “soap opera technique,” true, which makes it more fascinating and compelling. You’ll be intrigued to discover how much real life is like high school; with all the same petty jealousies, gossip, and cliques and other familiar behavior we have all suffered, except on a much grander scale.

And much, much more….


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