Many writers dream of landing a spot on This American Life, the public radio show that features some of the best journalists and storytellers working today.
In a revealing “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit, This American Life host Ira Glass outlined how stories get selected on the show. In his long answer, he actually included a list of stories that were considered for a single episode–a daunting, but inspiring list. Check it out:
What we’re looking for: someone to relate to, a plot that’s surprising that leads to some idea about the world that’s also new or interesting or surprising. Those are the basic elements. Extra points for humor, charm or memorable details that you can’t get out of your head. A great story is like a great melody: it announces its inevitable greatness and you recognize it the first time you hear it. Most stories aren’t that. They do not announce their obvious greatness. 60% are in the limbo region where they might GET great or they might flop, and the only way to figure it out is to start making the story. So you launch in, hoping for that winning combination of great moments, charm, funny, and X factor. As a result, we go through tons of stories on our way to the few that end up on the air. It’s like harnessing luck as an industrial product. You want to get hit by lightning, so you have to wander around for a long time in the rain.
Before you submit anything to the show, you should check out these real pitches from journalists and storytellers that ended up on the program.
If you’re pitching a story you’re hoping to tell on the air yourself, let us know what happened in a page or two. For some stories just a few paragraphs are fine. You don’t need to be formal about it, just tell the story the way you’d tell it to someone over drinks or coffee. If you have favorite moments in the story, let us know those. Tell us anything you think will help us understand what a great story it is. If the story happened to you and showed you something about the world you hadn’t realized before, or changed you (or the other people in the story) in some way, let us know that too.