Story Telling: Always Surprising

For my polished piece for 725 I revised the first draft of my digital story assignment. The video I titled Overboard! details a near death experience I had when I was 21. In the narrative I describe how after my junior year of college I attempt a sort of Jack London odyssey and went to Alaska and worked on a commercial fishing boat. Near the end of the summer I had an accident one morning on deck and was thrown overboard and nearly died. It is my trump story.

I know it’s a good story. I’ve told it so often that I have the details of it fairly well rehearsed. Many of the turns of phrase that I use in Overboard! sound off the cuff, but that is simply not the case. I have told that story so often that those phrases have been crafted in my mind over many years. In truth, I was kind of sick of telling it.

That’s why initially I recorded myself telling a very different story about another experience I had that same summer in Alaska. I started by writing out this other story, but that was taking way too long. I decided to just sit down and tell it and I would record myself. I started talking, recording all the while on a dictation app on my phone. At a certain point I looked down and noticed that I had been talking for 21 minutes straight. That wouldn’t do. I sighed and resigned myself to the composing of a draft of what would become Overboard! That story was far more succinct and I had it much more rehearsed in my mind than the one I initially started with.

What happened when I actually created Overboard! surprised me. Yes, I had told that story so often that I was sick of it, and yes, the turns of phrase that are used in the telling of it usually sound stale to me. But that wasn’t the case with this telling. I think that happened for a couple reasons.

The first reason is that I actually rarely get an opportunity to tell that story in its entirety. I tell it most often in social settings where a ten minute monologue wouldn’t work well. People want the gory highlights and they want to move on, and that’s usually what I deliver. When that happens, a lot of the drama and intrigue in the story is lost. Plus, the composing process—when we give it our full attention—is always exciting and surprising. Something new will come out every time. While I thought I was sitting down to trot out the same rehearsed lines, when I actually started to concentrate on the event in my memory things came back that weren’t the rehearsed pieces. There are details in Overboard! that I don’t think I have ever shared with another human being before now. That is exciting.

The second reason is that this was an opportunity to tell this story to loved ones once again but this time with the aid of certain visuals. Details that I know I have talked about before with my wife or my mother now suddenly received big reactions. “Now I understand what happened!” I expected the visuals to help make a more engaging story, but I was surprised by how much they deepened the audience’s understanding of events.

I’m proud of my effort with this piece. To create it I gained a good working knowledge of two programs I have never encountered before: Audacity for audio editing and iMovie to create the overall piece. Audacity especially impressed me. It is easily the most powerful and intuitive audio editing software I have ever used. A lot of my revision effort for the second draft focused on cleaning up the audio of the narrative, getting rid of verbal filler like “um” etc. I also added in a couple more visuals and swapped out some existing ones for ones that provided more dramatic effect or just simply conveyed what I wanted in a simpler fashion.


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2 Responses to “Story Telling: Always Surprising”

  1. Keri Says:


    This was actually hard to listen to in some ways. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched something and turned it off because you just didn’t want to see what happened. It felt like a horror movie to me in that way. Thankfully, I knew you were okay, but it was hard to listen to. At the moment in your story when I realized and imagined the rope tightening, I had goosebumps. So, I think your movie had the right effect.

    I have a boat–no salmon fishing boat, of course–but often I’m worried about the anchor and the rope. Even with such a small anchor, if you aren’t thinking about your feet, there could be a catastrophe on a lake in the Ozarks. I’ve actually even had dreams about that–more like nightmares, actually.

    I keep imagining that we need to have a reading this next year and show these digital stories. I think that’s a goal that I have, so I think about your story in terms of that audience. I have a few minor questions….

    I wondered what happened to your ankle and the rope once you were thrown off the boat. Did the rope miraculously become untangled? What happened exactly? I didn’t quite catch that. Also, do you remember hitting the water. What was the temp? Did you take a huge gulp of air? Did you go under water far? Was the net swirling about you? I wanted to see that more and feel your physical experience at that moment.

    I wondered about ending with “My summer is over.” That seemed like a great concluding line, yet you would still need some sort of “so what.” There was another line that began with “I had a moment…” and I wondered if that marked your so what.

    Finally, I wondered if you have a script written out–the story written out. If you were going to show to a larger audience, I would like to see the narrative more seamless rather than conversational. Essentially, this is a creative non-fiction piece/memoir. I wanted the audio to flow with a little bit better–fewer pauses, hesitations, and maybes. You have a great voice for this, too.

    You didn’t mention in your reflection, but I remember saying you didn’t have any pictures. But, the pictures you used and found were excellent. The narrator doesn’t necessarily have to be in the pics, right? That didn’t feel necessary at all.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I thought all of your work was very good.


    • areluctantparticipant Says:

      Thanks for that great feedback Keri. I really appreciate it. I might script this like you suggest. I might start work on a completely new project too, but I will use the same media. iMovie and Audacity work extremely well together and I am quite impressed what they can add to a narrative after this experience. This is exciting stuff. Thank you!

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