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The Future of Content episode 13: Memoir and Personal Essay

25 Min. ReadDigital strategy

The Future of Content Episode 13: Memoir and Personal Essay

As Rachel Starnes wrote her memoir, The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible), she learned that there’s a delicate balance between emotional truth and literal truth. How closely should you adhere to factual versus remembered truth? How does revisiting your past with the advantage of hindsight change your interpretation of the events? And how will a memoir affect the people represented in the story?

It’s something that you kind of have to grapple with and you have to decide, ‘Okay, well, what’s going to be my set of practices to get at what I consider to be the most ethical and responsible way of treating the truth?’ And I think the best times that that works are the times where you’re super clear with the reader what you’re doing.

By sharing a challenging snapshot of an era in her life, Rachel was able to process her perspective and the perspectives of those close to her in a cathartic way.

[It] was a worthy endeavor. To go back and look at your formative experiences. There was some value in that and it kind of dovetailed with this idea of like, I’m doing some work on myself. That’s a thing you should do.

Rachel Starnes

Rachel Starnes is a creative writing instructor and the author of The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible).

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Episode transcript

Note: This transcript may contain some minor wording and formatting errors. Apologies in advance!

[Todd] Welcome to The Future of Content. I’m your host, Todd Nienkerk. On this podcast, we explore content—its creation, management, and distribution—by talking with the people who make content possible. Our goal is to learn from diverse perspectives and industries to become better creators. The Future of Content is brought to you by Four Kitchens. We design and develop digital content solutions that get results. Today, we’re talking about memoir and personal essays. I’m joined by Rachel Starnes, creative writing instructor and author of The War at Home: A Wife’s Search For Peace and (Other Missions Impossible). Welcome to The Future of Content, Rachel.

[Rachel] Thanks.

[Todd] So first things first. The War at Home: What is it about, and what inspired you to write it?

[Rachel] The War at Home is about a roughly 12-year period of time, in which I was married to a U.S. Navy fighter pilot, and kind of interwoven into the story are different pieces of backstory and history where I’m really kind of trying to understand how I ended up where I was and what patterns I may have been repeating from my upbringing.

[Todd] So what exactly is a memoir? What makes a memoir a memoir?

[Rachel] So a memoir, say, discrete from something like an autobiography, is really just a slice of life. It’s one facet, one shade, maybe one experience. It can be time-bound. You can write a whole memoir about the summer you spent in Nepal. It can be scene-bound. It can be a memoir of relationships or a memoir of addiction, and it can also— Let’s see. Time-bound, theme-bound. Yeah, I’d say it’s kind of one lens of experience.

[Todd] And that’s different from an autobiography or a biography in what way exactly?

[Rachel] Sure. So an autobiography, I think, attempts to capture the whole story, the entire history, end-to-end, hitting the high points. It’s really more of the story of an entire life. That’s the frame. Whereas a memoir is much more targeted. And then a biography, of course, would be someone else writing the story of another person’s life.

[Todd] It seems to me like a memoir also has a bit more creative license. Is that true? Is that necessarily true that memoir is maybe not quite as accurate as an autobiography?

[Rachel] Well, I wouldn’t say not quite as accurate, but I wouldn’t say that it does— It’s got the responsibility of educating you on something. I mean, the reason you’re writing it is to try to illuminate some layer of experience that’s not immediately obvious just from the telling of events. You’re really looking at the accretion of experience. You have several layers of persona, I think, also, in a memoir. You have a narrative persona that you’re having to take on, and you’re going back and reviewing previous experience. So you’ve necessarily had to divide yourself into several people, which then become characters. And there’s kind of, at minimum, I’d say there’s the in-scene persona, the person who’s living the experience at the time. And then there’s your writer-at-the-desk persona, whose job is to go back and analyze. So you’ve got kind of three levels—scene, summary, and analysis. Summary is kind of how you take the high-level pass, the 30,000-foot pass that gets you— You can skip junior high. You can skip high school. You can go straight to this experience in college. The scene is really the thing that a lot of people will say, “Oh, it reads like fiction,” or, “It reads like a novel,” because you are using some of those tools around scene building. There’s dialogue. There’s characters. There’s physical description. You really do try to sink people down into a moment, but then— And there’s varying levels of opinion about this. There’s some people that really feel like you need to have that third layer, someone coming in, the wise trusting— No, the wise trustworthy voice that’s going back and saying, “What I didn’t know at the time was,” or, “Now, what I think about this is.” That level of analysis, kind of meaning-making, why am I showing you this experience, it’s because it’s now come to mean this to me.”

[Todd] And that you called it a narrative persona?

[Rachel] Yeah, I mean I think it’s a— I think it’s a fairly common term that people use. But yeah, it’s really just to kind of convey this idea that you’re not you through and through when you’re writing this thing. You have to kind of put on different hats. And it feels a little weird at first, but you really do have to render yourself as a character on the page and keep fidelity to that character.

[Todd] There’s always sort of a battle in writing of emotional truth versus literal truth. And does the author have a responsibility to lean in one direction more than the other? Or is it actually more responsible to lean into emotional truth because you’re conveying the meaning of the message as opposed to maybe the literal facts of the message? What’s your thoughts on that and where, in the world of memoir, has that tripped people up?

[Rachel] Oh, Lord, has it ever. Yeah.

[Todd] Maybe famously on Oprah or something.

[Rachel] Yeah, maybe some guy that got chewed out. And I think there’s no real easy answer here. It really is a thing that you have to grapple with. And truth is a line in the sand, but it’s one that everybody draws in a different place. In the super traditional purest sense, there are even memoirists who kind of feel a little squeaky about using dialogue. Because I mean, who’s really got a photographic memory for exactly what was said? But it’s something that you kind of have to grapple with and you have to decide, “Okay, well, what’s going to be my set of practices to get at what I consider to be the most ethical and responsible way of treating the truth?” And I think the best times that that works are the times where you’re super clear with the reader what you’re doing. So in other words, sometimes books even have like a disclaimer around like, “Hey, I’ve changed some names to protect people’s privacies, but I haven’t done—”

[Todd] Or like combine the characters into—

[Rachel] Right. Composite characters. I’m not a fan of doing composite characters or, like, compressing timelines. I mean, in a lot of ways, I am kind of a purist on that. Because, and this is the reason, I think, whenever you’re tempted to make a composite character or compress a timeline or even switch the order of events, what’s really happening there is, I think that—or at least I’ve noticed myself doing it—when I’m tempted to do something like that, it’s because I’m either unsure of my memory or there’s a difficult conversation that I need to have to get more sure. And really, I think that’s where the real paydirt in memoir is. It’s because you do have to go back and interview people, I feel like. I mean, it’s a standard I hold myself to, that if there’s something I’m not sure about, or if I’m tempted to compress a timeline, or I don’t exactly remember, I either need to call that out directly on the page, or I need to go find who knows and have that conversation. And sometimes, what you find is the two stories don’t match up. And so then what do you do? Well, Tara Westover, in her book, Educated—I love it—she calls out those moments in the footnotes. And it’s stuff around like, “I remember this happening in the spring because this, this, and this. But my brother swears it was in the winter,” or something like that. And I think that’s actually where the really interesting part of memoir happens, right? It’s because we’re realizing different people remember the same event in very different ways. We’re all there—

[Todd] Right, and that’s key to the human experience, too.

[Rachel] Totally. Well—

[Todd] And not just having different perspectives on something or different opinions, but the fallibility of memory itself, and how you cannot trust your own memory or the memory of anybody else, but yet you still have to sort of come to some kind of agreement as to, “Well, at least we agree on these overlapping details. Maybe these other ones aren’t so important.” Or maybe they are important, and that is why people fundamentally disagree about things.

[Rachel] Right. And I mean, essentially, what you’re coming to always is the question of “Why this, and why now? Why is this tugging at me, and why is now the time that I need to write about it?” And I think, ultimately, what you’re trying to do there with contested events like that is you’re trying to come up with some kind of meaning around it. You’re trying to put handles on it so you can carry it. And I think, too often in our culture, we consider it a weakness if someone changes their mind about a past event or calls that into question or even calls up the fact that there is even possible— That it’s even possible to have scientific, objective truth. Because honestly, what you’re coming down to is, what would the surveillance camera have captured? And that doesn’t exist. So you’ve got what you’ve got, and it’s fallible. And you have to—

[Todd] And a camera can’t necessarily capture intent. Right?

[Rachel] Yeah. Well, and people can change their stories. And then you have to think about, “Well, what’s the motivation for changing that story?”

[Todd] So what else is involved, then, in the process of writing a memoir? How do you decide— Well, where do you start?

[Rachel] Okay. Well, first, for me, I started by fighting against what I wanted to write about. I really did not want to write about my marriage. I did not want to write about being a military spouse. It just felt too dangerous or too just messy. And I kept trying to—

[Todd] Why is that?

[Rachel] Because I felt—

[Todd] Kind of the politics of it, or the community, or—

[Rachel] Yeah, kind of both. And then I felt over and over again like what I was— How I felt about it was complicated. And I was struggling with it. And I didn’t feel like I could find any templates or models of how to feel about that experience. And I often felt like I was on the outside of the conversations and the experiences that I was having around that life and that community. I found a lot there that resonated and that was wonderful and exciting and deeply affirming, but I also always felt like an outsider.

[Todd] Okay. So first, you were struggling with whether or not to write a memoir at all. Right? But then once you made that decision to do so, what does it look like to stand in the room as you were putting together the memoir? Do you just have a notes document? Are you free-handing some stuff on legal pads? Are there Post-Its on the wall? How are you assembling the initial sketches of what is going to be part of this story and what isn’t?

[Rachel] You know in TV shows where they want to make the point that someone is insane and that they’ve been stalking someone? And there’s this crazy wall, and there’s pictures with eyes X-ed out and yarn.

[Todd] And little bits of— The yarn with the pushpins. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[Rachel] Yeah. It looked remarkably like that because a lot of the writing that I do— For some reason, I’m one of those people where ideas come to me in the shower or when I’m in the car or when I’m shopping for diapers at Walmart. So a lot of things were written on scraps. And then to kind of make them stick together, then I would color code them. And then they would need to be up on the wall, and they’d need to be movable. And then there’d need to be— I mean, in some ways, those crazy walls are actually really deeply logical. I mean, I’ve seen something similar when I look at storyboarding software, like Miro. And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a crazy board.” But it looked a bit like that in the beginning. There was a lot of printing things out that— Yeah, I use note files. I used legal pads. I used all kinds of stuff. And then it was literally cutting stuff out with scissors and trying to put it in order. A lot of it is—

[Todd] You mean cutting things out with scissors? Like you would take these scraps of things all over the wall and you’d literally cut? There’s some idea that you want out of this, but you want to separate them. So you’re literally cutting the posted note. Oh, interesting.

[Rachel] Yeah, yeah. No, it’s really gross if it’s like—

[Todd] This isn’t like some William Burroughs experiment. You’re actually trying to make sense out of all of this.

[Rachel] Yeah. And I mean I think it was one of those things where it was like you realized that in Word, cut, copy, and paste—that’s a thing that comes from somewhere. Yeah, yeah.

[Todd] Oh. Oh, no [laughter]. Wow. Why did I never—? My whole life I’ve been cutting, copying, and pasting on a computer, and yet I never realized that comes from the real world.

[Rachel] Yeah, deeply, deeply analog. Yeah. I mean, it’s scissors.

[Todd] Wow. Okay, so you’re shuffling these ideas around, you’re cutting them up, you’re creating a crazy wall— You’re creating a conspiracy theory wall that is the story. It eventually goes through multiple drafts and editing, and there are other people involved. I’m sure you’re showing it to people. And since this is a memoir, at what point do you show the memoir to people who are in it?

[Rachel] Oh, God. This I learned through doing and failing that you don’t show anyone anything early, especially if they are involved and especially if they care about you. I want to put an even finer point on that especially if they are your dad [laughter] because there’s just a point at which certain people seem kind of— I mean the other thing about that is that you’re kind of pressure testing some of these ideas because what you’re beginning to see is themes are arising, right. Like, “Oh, this has happened before. This has happened before.” And some of them are quite uncomfortable. And I mean I would argue if you’re doing it, right, you’re going to come across some that you didn’t know or didn’t recognize before. And just by virtue of the fact that you’re seeing this phrase or this color come up again and again, you’re realizing, “Oh, this is a problem.” But I think if you show— My experience with my dad is that I think I showed him stuff where I was really kind of building the emotional underpinning of things and really building several scenes, and I knew very clearly what the emotional valence of each of those scenes was, what I took out of it as a child, but necessarily as a child, I didn’t have all of the context. So what we ended up in was this weird eddy where he was filling in the context for me on things that I hadn’t fully crystallized or solidified how I was going to write about it with fidelity to my insane persona. Eight-year-old me had no idea why my dad kept being so stressed out when he would come home from work. What was going on at work? I had no idea that there was a downturn in the industry and he was about to lose the job. I didn’t know that. But when he was reading this draft, he was like, “Oh, you don’t understand. This is what was happening,” and then this and then this. And pretty soon, it’s a very short jump from that to, “And what your reader needs to know is…”

[Todd] And you have to edit, yeah.

[Rachel] Yeah. And from there, it’s a very short jump to, “Let’s write a better story that doesn’t make it look like I did this on purpose [laughter].”

[Todd] But the whole point of a memoir is that the memories and the emotions and the way you see the world and your experiences are all within the frame of the thing at the time. And, yes, there is a time to reflect on it, but unless it’s happening within the contemporary timeline of the memoir, unless that realization is happening then, as opposed to years later. Now you’re writing about it in retrospect. It has no bearing on the story in fact.

[Rachel] Right, right. So a way to kind of separate out those streams is you can talk about and you can write about in the book, “Well, the conversation my dad and I had years later, then I realized this and this and we went over this.” You try to find a way to fit that in elegantly, but you can’t go back and rewrite your memory of how you felt at the time.

[Todd] No, because that is not true.

[Rachel] Yeah.

[Todd] Fascinating. Okay, well, let’s take a short break. And when we return, we will continue our conversation with Rachel Starnes.

[Music] [Todd] Hey everyone, Todd here. We’ll get back to the episode in a moment. First, I wanted to quickly tell you about Four Kitchens. You may know that Four Kitchens creates websites, but we do so much more than that. Our team of Web Chefs can help you make better use of your content, scale your web team, and create world-class digital experiences. Most importantly, we get results. We’ve helped media companies streamline their streaming platforms, we’ve helped public broadcasters increase donations, and we’ve helped universities enroll more students. To find out more about how Four Kitchens can help, visit us at Now back to the episode.

[Todd] Welcome back to The Future of Content. Our guest today is Rachel Starnes, memoirist, essayist, and author of The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible). Let’s talk about the history of the memoir and where you feel it’s going as a type of content, as a format, as a medium. So where did memoir come from in the literary tradition?

[Rachel] Okay. So the super high-level zoom pass over this that they drill into you in the first year of an MFA program, is to go all the way back to the fifth century. You’re at Augustine, you’re at confessions. It used to be a forum for kind of working through and grappling with a lot of very high issues of spirituality. And then from there, you come up to, say, Montaigne essays, I think would probably also be kind of a predecessor. These kind of meandering thought essay-type things.

[Todd] And what made those so unique at the time compared to— I mean, what was happening concurrently? Was it like oral tradition storytelling or how is this different? Was it that it was personal and being told by the person who lived it?

[Rachel] Yeah, and I think a lot of that had to do with the permission of who anybody was willing to listen to, on what nonfiction topic, right? So you did not have lots of stories by women. You did not have lots of marginalized voices. You had no marginalized voices ever. And it was acceptable to talk about things and nonfiction if you were dealing with kind of very high issues of the spirit or things that were kind of like templates for living. But yeah, we definitely had a whole period and like the 18th, 19th Century, too, it was like: great men, great deeds. Like, this is worthy of being discussed because this is capital-H history. But as far as a lot of— I always thought this was really kind of an interesting point that surprised me. A lot of the kind of relationship grappling and emotional labor grappling work, we really used to trust and look to the novel more for that in previous literary centuries. That was considered the purview of the novel. That was considered totally legit. It lost no credibility by being fiction. In fact, it was considered more instructive or more, somehow, valid because it was like, this— I don’t know. We just used to look to—

[Todd] Sort of parable, in a way.

[Rachel] Yeah. That was where you do emotional heavy lifting. That’s where you go. But then I think, along with kind of social and political events as we got into the 20th Century and certainly, the 21st is like, a lot of different. It became kind of a mark of culture and education, to be able to look at life from a different point of view. And, also, we had war memoirs. We had the rise of psychoanalysis. We had political memoirs.

[Todd] Oh, right.

[Rachel] Yeah. Right? It suddenly became a legit field of study to unpack your childhood. That was a huge, huge, huge cultural moment.

[Todd] And so memoirs became a form of, not exclusively, but a lot of people could use memoir as a form of self-help.

[Rachel] Yeah, I would say self-help, and also the idea that this was a worthy endeavor. To go back and look at your formative experiences. There was some value in that and it kind of dovetailed with this idea of, like, I’m doing some work on myself. That’s a thing you should do.

[Todd] So now we’re kind of getting towards mode\r\n \time.

[Rachel] Mhmm.

[Todd] And how has memoir changed just in our lifetime? Has this accelerated?

[Rachel] Yeah. I mean, if you just look at the numbers in publishing too. As a genre, it exploded in the ’80s and ’90s. You started seeing way more of these titles being picked up and publishing is kind of a trend-driven industry, too. And it’s funny when you go looking and doing a little research, there are all sorts of kind of alarmist articles decrying the moral decay.

[Todd] Oh, of course.

[Rachel] [crosstalk] They were like—

[Todd] Well, they said the same thing about the novel, in fact, that it turns your brain to mush.

[Rachel] Yes. It’s frivolous.

[Todd] Oh, boy.

[Rachel] Yep. So it’s this whole thing about a generation of narcissists and navel-gazers and going back and—

[Todd] Oh, this sounds familiar. Oh, hmm. TikTok [laughter].

[Rachel] So, yeah, I think there’s definitely— in one way I think there’s probably a legit criticism to be levied at the genre that maybe it gets a little too internal, maybe, but I would also argue that part of the rise of memoir has to do with the volume of information, just fire-hosing at us all the time, and I think out of that you have to have some filtering mechanism, right? You’re bombarded by so much information, so much content, all the time that you have to get picky about something. And I think one of the ways that people— A bias that we’ve developed is if it’s true, though, if it’s nonfiction, if it’s somebody else’s lived experience, then that, for lack of a better word, truthiness means that I can trust it more, that I won’t be tricked by it or that it’s worth my time. And then, of course, I think you kind of get into this— David Shields has a great book called Reality Hunger. “A Manifesto” is the subtitle, which I think [laughter] wow, you’ve got away with that.

[Todd] And how many books or texts have been published with “a manifesto” as the subtitle?

[Rachel] Yeah. But I think he makes a really great point that there’s something about this moment where we’re like, “I want reality TV. I want things to be real. I want to see this happening. I want to know that the people involved really have some skin in the game.” There is this kind of hunger for connection, I think, and there’s maybe a belief that if something is packaged or framed a certain way as nonfiction, and I think memoir benefited from this bias, that if it’s packaged a certain way then there’s almost— Maybe the negative way would be to say voyeuristic, but there’s a certain draw to it. I’m actually going to see something real. I’m going to get closer. And so to me, the rise of memoir is about trying to filter down a tsunami of content to what really is going to impact you and I also think ultimately it’s a hunger for connection.

[Todd] So the hunger for connection in memoir, to what extent then would social networks and communities like YouTube be a version of a memoir that is happening more or less live?

[Rachel] Oh, God [laughter]. The problem with these is that there is not enough editing and self-reflection and loneliness. There’s a certain amount of I think the analogue publishing experience that necessitates just time at the desk, sweating it out all alone in this unconnected state, and I think what happens there is, hopefully, a lot of the self-delusion burns away. When we have social media platforms that are immediate and are easy and you can put content out there in the world quickly. My own personal bias, and it may be because I’m just an old lady, is that that kind of ease of, “I have a thought. There it is in the world.”

[Todd] And it’s edited live in the sense of it is the best possible version of that thing. And if you don’t like the photo, take it again. Right? And again, and again. So there’s some form of editing.

[Rachel] Well, there’s some form of editing but I think then the trouble becomes the form is so easy. Social media is so easy that rather than you actually getting to an insight or having a legitimate experience, you become this curated content provider and you necessarily then become more and more progressively shallow to where you’re like a van life Instagram influencer. Apologies to all the deep and insightful van life Instagram influencers. But you are curating. There’s your life that you’re curating and taking pictures of constantly with all kinds of filters and putting out into the world, just propagating like pollen. And then there’s your actual life, which is this miserable enslavement to the tools you use. Right?

[Todd] So true. Yeah. And there’s no reflection on that.

[Rachel] Right. Because there’s not time because you produce content instantly. You’re not ever allowed to sit with it and marinate it and feel like, “All right. What did this actually mean?”

[Todd] And the business models behind this are so driven in the same way that the content is created in an instant and with instant gratification. The business model itself is built on having to constantly chu\r\n \this out. Like your sponsorships are only as good as the number of posts you do in a day. And people immediately unfollow you if they haven’t seen anything from you in like 12 hours, right?

[Rachel] Yeah. It’s based on the two biases that newer is better and faster is better. Well, three biases: And more is better. Have you seen the app “Fish”? It’s a tap essay.

[Todd] No.

[Rachel] You can go to the Apple Store and it’s an app, and you’ve got to download it.

[Todd] Is that how apps work?

[Rachel] Yeah, yeah. But it’s a tap essay and it makes this exact point that a lot of the content that’s created now is created for— With the assumption that it’s a one and done. It’s fast. You don’t come back to it. You don’t reread it. You don’t revisit it.

[Todd] It’s in the feed for the amount of time that somebody is scrolling and then as far as they’re concerned, it’s gone. And if you ever go look at somebody’s profile and start to dig into it, that’s somehow creepy.

[Rachel] Yes. Yes. Yes. So it makes this point, I think, about the creation of fast content and consumable content that is meant to be disposable and immediately created again. I mean, it’s like writing something in the sand in front of the tide, and you’ll write it again, and the tide will come, and you’ll write it again. It has no staying power. And I think when you write too quickly or when you’re curating content for a social platform like that, I mean, you’re maybe operating in those constraints. And I feel like it’s really, really hard to come up with a profound or meaningful or worthwhile observation about the meaning of experience when you’ve got 12 hours to do it in one picture and even fewer words.

[Todd] Yeah. And you’re constructing it using your thumbs on a tiny little keyboard. So where do you see— Where do you see memoir— How do you see memoir changing in the next 10 years or— Honestly, we can’t think any further ahead of 10 years. At this point, it’s impossible, but do you—

[Rachel] No, Friday.

[Todd] —do you see— 

[Rachel] We can’t think beyond Friday.

[Todd] —do you see the— So if memoir started to really kind of establish its identity as people began thinking about as metacognition took place, thinking about how they think and how they feel in the age of psychoanalysis, and then moving into the ’80s and ’90s, there was a boom then, is there a kind of boom happening now or is memoir retreating in the light of social media in this completely different way of telling your story?

[Rachel] I see two things that it’s doing right now. I don’t know about super future ahead, but two fascinating things it’s doing right now is I think the bar of entry as far as what voices we want to hear what truths from has just fallen away completely. I think it’s a genre that is wide open to all kinds of voices that traditionally got blocked out. And I feel like publishing, which is I think kind of a notoriously homogenous industry in terms of who’s actually working in publishing, I think that is really changing. And I think that there are voices actively being sought and solicited that would not have had a seat at the table before. So I definitely think there’s been an explosion of really fascinating perspectives and different voices that are being brought to the table. The other thing that I think is happening that’s really exciting to see is just kind of a blending and a blurring of the line between the genres of what you can do with memoir. I think there’s a lot of really interesting kinds of different texts that are being interwoven into a traditional memoir. So where it might have looked before, maybe read sort of a novel or that you kind of would have expected, like between chapters, where we’re doing this, there’s a rising action and falling action in the chapters, and this is moving like a very traditional book. I think now what we’re seeing is some really creative ways of kind of braiding in and blending in genres, where before we would have said like, “This is memoir, and this is true crime or—” I think I’m seeing a lot more blending of the lines, where people are kind of taking events in history and kind of weaving them into their personal story and kind of going back and forth in those lines. A great example of that is The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich. I love that one. That’s one that I believe early on there was even maybe some pushback in the publishing process around you can’t do this, you can’t go deep into the details of the story of a murder but then also draw parallels of how some of those themes played out in your own life.

[Todd] I’m not trying to draw a comparison necessarily, but there does seem to be a trend now in at least in the podcast world and in sort of audio storytelling to make like the journalist’s journey or the storyteller’s journey part of the story itself even though they aren’t— They don’t actually have anything to do with the story.

[Rachel] So kind of letting go of that whole objective observer point of view?

[Todd] Yes. In fact, yeah. That’s one of the side effects of this. That’s exactly what happens. But I suppose why it’s successful and why it isn’t always entirely maddening is that you as the listener are also on a journey of discovery. And so you kind of feel like they’re the guide, and you can identify with that, and you kind of take the twists and turns like, “Oh, now I think this, and now I think that.” I mean, how many times listening to Serial where you’re like, “Oh, he’s guilty. No, he’s not. Oh, he’s guilty.” And that was part of Sarah Koenig’s journey in reporting that story.

[Rachel] Sure. I mean, in some ways, isn’t that more honest because—

[Todd] That’s true. Yeah.

[Rachel] —every observer, how you tell a story, you always necessarily have a point of view. And what you leave in and what you take out belies the way that you are processing it. So I mean, in some ways, calling out your subjectivity as a narrator is maybe more of an honest way to tell the story. But I don’t know. I mean, even talking about that, the role of the narrator and what makes a narrator reliable and what makes you really kind of question them, I think it brings up those valid questions.

[Todd] Yeah, well, thank you, Rachel, for joining us today. That was Rachel Starnes. Thank you so much.

[Rachel] Of course.

[Todd] I hope all of you listening learned just as much as I did. And I can’t wait to see the content that you create next. So please feel free to send it my way via email at You can also reach out to me at @FoCpodcast on Twitter. To find out more about Four Kitchens and how we solve complex content problems, visit And finally, make sure to search for The Future of Content in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts—anywhere podcasts are found—and click “subscribe” so you don’t miss any future episodes. Until next time, keep creating content.