Be Bingeable!
Hello friends,

One of my girls recently sent out a reminder that it was almost time for our annual end-of-summer float trip, and I was, like, "But, wait… it's still wintertime!"

Yeah, that's what happens when you spend a couple of months under crushing deadlines.

But my schedule is starting to return to something resembling sanity, which means I have time to think back and reflect on the work that's been done. And, to be honest, I see things that we could have done better. I always do. But there are also some aspects of my current project that I'm really happy with.

And right up near the top of the list is…our cliffhangers.

Okay, look, you absolutely do not need to listen to this podcast to understand what I'm talking about here. I'm mostly going to be using examples from other shows.

But, if you want a sense of what I've been working on and why I love our cliffhangers, check out Believable: The Coco Berthmann Story.

Episode 5 comes out on Thursday, which means you can totally binge the first half. And I hope you will. But yeah, it's totally not required for understanding the rest of this newsletter.

I promise.

Serialized narratives are my absolute favorite shows to listen to. And they're my favorite to work on, too.

The basic idea is this – you've got a story told in multiple parts. Usually somewhere in between 6-12 episodes. And you need to keep listeners hooked. You want them to come back.

You want to be…bingeable.

Even if you're not working on a serialized show -- even if your project has a new topic or a new interview subject for each episode -- these techniques can help you make sure your listener sticks with you through the ad break. Or through that less-than-thrilling explainer.

They can help you keep your listener on the edge of their seat from beginning to end.

Or to the beginning of the next episode.

So, here are some of my favorite tricks -- from some of my favorite podcasts.
Do you know how difficult it is to choose a photo to go along with this concept? I finally settled on this image of a very "thrilling" carnival sign from Nick Fewings on Unsplash.
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The Simple Setup

Okay, there's nothing new about this technique. Nothing flashy. Nothing sexy. But sometimes you just need to end an episode by giving listeners a roadmap to what they're going to hear next.

This can be super useful when you've devoted a whole episode to one thing, and now you are going to take a completely different approach in the next episode.

So … an example. Episode 2 of No Compromise is called The Facebook Flock. As you might guess, it's all about how a certain political movement played out over social media. But the episode ends with one of the hosts announcing…
We're logging out of Facebook….


…and finding out the Dorr brothers look a little different in real life.


That's next time, on No Compromise.
Want to hear what it sounds like? Click here.

And look, building an ending like this is not rocket science. It's not going to add hours to your production schedule. It's just a teeny tiny bit more complicated than saying "Next time…" and throwing in a few of your favorite sound bites.

But by promising your listener something different - something new - you're going to give them a reason to come back.
The Non-Ending Ending

I use examples from Tunnel 29 in a lot of my workshops. Partly because I really enjoyed that podcast. But that's not the only reason I keep coming back to it.

I think the producers made some really innovative choices. And I actually don't agree with all of them. In fact, some of them drove me batty.

But when the podcast was good, it was very, very, very good. And one of the things they were great at was endings.

Except, if you really go back and listen, you'll discover that none of their episodes actually end at something that's actually an ending. In fact, the producers really seem to take sadistic pleasure at pausing the forward action right at the moment of greatest tension. Often, in a literal life or death moment.

And then, BOOM – they drop the credits music.

No preview of the next episode. No hints as to how it will all work out. No "sexy" tape. The story reaches its pinnacle and just ...

... ends.

It's infuriating. And oh, so intriguing.

(Possibly not coincidentally, the name of the podcast is actually Intrigue: Tunnel 29. There are other seasons, too, but I haven't actually listened to any of them. I probably should do something about that!)
The Tantalizing Twist

I really enjoyed Admissible: Shreds of Evidence. I started listening on a whim, thinking I'd probably drop off after a couple of episodes. The subject matter is not exactly my usual cup of tea. But the team did a really great job of giving me reasons to keep listening. And the first of those came at the end of the first episode.

So I don't want to give away too much. But basically the first episode centers on the work of one woman. She's a bit of a mystery. Not a lot is known about her as a person. But people are praising the work that she did.

And then at the very end of the episode, the producers find the sister of someone who actually knew this woman, and she gives the listener reason to doubt everything they've just heard.
"Mary Jane Burton was a lying piece of BLEEP. How's that for ya? She was a nasty, evil woman."
Right? So, so good. Listen here.

The funny thing is, right before the twist, I found myself thinking, "How the heck are they going to keep this thing going for a bunch more episodes?"

But a good twist can turn it all around.
The Writerly Reveal

If you haven't listened to Wild Boys yet, you are seriously behind the times. Incredible story. Incredibly well told.

And really, I probably could include the end of every single episode in this newsletter. Without fail, each one made me want to click "play" on the next episode.

One of the many things I think host Sam Mullins did really well was to focus on writing beautiful endings..that were also beginnings.

Far too often, when we come to the end of an episode, we wrap up the story that we're telling. And then…we're tired. We're out of ideas. We just want to be done.

And so, we lean on the very sexiest tape from the next episode, and hope that's enough to make the listener want to keep listening.

And look, some episodes of Wild Boys end with really sexy tape. And that's great, too. But Episode 1 ends without any tape at all. It ends on a host monologue. Exquisitely written.

Sam brings us into a pivotal moment. A long drive. Except two of the people in the car have a certain understanding of what's going on. The risks they're taking. The harm they're trying to avoid.

And the other two people in the car?

Well, the other two people in the car have been lying. About almost everything.

Again, I don't want to spoil it for you. If you haven't heard the podcast yet, start at the beginning. You won't regret it.

But if you've already heard the podcast and want a refresher on what happened at the end, listen here:

The monologue isn't long. Just :30 seconds. That's part of what makes it beautiful. But it manages to simultaneously be a satisfying ending to Episode 1 AND an intriguing setup for Episode 2.
The Mic Drop

Okay, I'm gonna give you just ONE example from Believable: The Coco Berthmann Story. And…my timing is a little off. Because this episode doesn't come out until Thursday. So if you're reading this newsletter on Tuesday, you're just going to have to wait.

Basically what happened was this: We got an interview that we did not expect to get. We had been trying to reach this person for months, and we hadn't heard a peep. So we just assumed that they didn't want to talk.

But literally, as we were sitting down to write Episode 6, the host reached out one more time. And less than two hours later, we found ourselves on Riverside hearing what just might be the single most perplexing anecdote of the entire series.

So, yeah, that moment is going to be a big deal in Episode 6. But when we did this interview, I had already written the first draft of Episode 5. And I had really whiffed the ending. Like, I had pretty much written a throwaway line of host narration.

Okay, if I'm being truthful, it actually wasn't poorly written. It was cute. Kinda sassy. But it didn't actually tell you anything about the episode that was coming next. And I totally expected that we'd delete it and write something more specific, once we had a draft of Episode 6.

Instead, I just inserted a single 9-second sound bite from that last-minute interview. No setup. No context. No clue as to how or why or when.

I was really just relying on the idea that if this moment was utterly shocking to us, it would probably be utterly shocking for our listener, too.

And based on how our editors responded, I think I was right!
That's it for this time. But now that my schedule is getting back to normal, I'm hoping these newsletters will start arriving a bit more often again. And heck, maybe I'll even find the time to teach a few Narrative Beat workshops?

So, if you have a question you'd like me to answer here – or if you have a topic you'd like me to teach in a workshop – just hit reply to this email. I always love hearing directly from you about what you'd like to see in this space.