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STORYTELLING TIPS

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives. As such, everyone has a story to tell about their experience over the past year. Whether in written, audio, or visual art form, our stories will be quilted together as one Santa Clara community to provide a unique snapshot of our world to future generations.

We are looking for reflections on everyday life, from the big moments to the small—how you’ve adapted to working and learning entirely online, how quarantine has affected your mental well-being for better or for worse, how institutional responses to COVID has shone a harsh light on racial justice and enduring inequalities, how you’ve picked up new hobbies or reconnected with your family.

Reflections should be brief, and easy to compile. Don’t be intimidated by size restraints or be afraid to try a new medium. At Santa Clara, we have access to many creative experts who’ve generously offered the following storytelling tips for creating impactful, simple entries.

Audio entries provide a unique opportunity for you to preserve your experience in your own voice. Journalist and SCU Senior Lecturer Gordon Young, who advises the University’s student newspaper, yearbook, and community radio station, has put together this simple audio recording guide. 

YOUR SOUND

You probably already have an amazing piece of recording equipment. It might be in your hand right now. It’s your smartphone. The Voice Memo feature on an iPhone, or an equivalent app on other brands, is really all you need to make an effective recording. But you still need to give some thought to your sound environment. These tips will help you create a high-quality recording the captures your story.

Be a good listener: Before you record, listen to the room. Is there a fan droning in the background? Is the HVAC kicking in and out? Is your neighbor finishing that home improvement project? Avoid any obvious distracting noises, and that includes other people talking.

The softer the better: Sound reverberates in rooms with hard surfaces like metal furniture, appliances, and glass. That’s not good. You want a space that absorbs sound and eliminates echo. Think soft carpets, plush furniture, and drapes. Avoid kitchens and set up shop in the den.

Your own little world: Can’t find a good place to record? “Build” a sound studio. It’s easier than you think. A closet jammed with clothes will work. A blanket over your head is an option. Consider a pillow fort. Anything that creates a buffer between you and hard surfaces.

Keep it down: Avoid jewelry that rustles or scrapes during recording. And try to hold the recorder steady without a lot of hand movement. Better yet, use a tripod or holder.

Veteran NPR correspondent Don Gonyea and other radio journalists offer some great tips, including a guide to building pillow forts.

Your Voice

Thankfully, the days of everyone trying to sound like an FM radio DJ from the ’70s are long gone. Your natural voice—the one you use when you talk to someone you care about—is the perfect way to convey a personal story. Here are a few ways to capture your true voice when recording. 

We’re all friends here: Have someone in mind and tell your story to that person. A friend. A family member. Imagine that you’re talking to them, not a generic, unknown audience.

Breath deep: It’s hard to sound like yourself when you are out of breath. It also puts a lot of strain on your vocal chords. Ideally, you should focus on breathing deeply into your diaphragm. Then again, if this is not how you typically breathe, it can create some problems. Don’t overthink it. Simply slow down. Pause between sentences for a gentle breath. There’s no rush.

Once more, from the top: One of the easiest ways to improve your delivery is to practice. Nervousness tends to fade with each take. As the words become more familiar, you sound more relaxed and natural. 

The popping Ps: Words that begin with the letter “P” can create a distracting pop when recording. It’s easy to fix. Just avoid holding the mic directly in front of your mouth. Instead, hold it about two inches below or to the side of your mouth. This also helps avoid distortion from holding the mic too close.

Cheers: Warm water with lemon and honey can do wonders for your throat. But not too hot. Or too cold, which can inhibit muscle function.

Voice coach Jessica Hansen and NPR’s Training Team explain a few ways to sound more natural when recording.

Writing tips to come from Kirk Glaser, senior lecturer and director of creative writing at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed our day-to-day existence, it’s also shown how creative we can get in isolation. Creating visual art, through painting, collage, drawing, sculpture, and photography, is an incredibly effective way to broaden perspectives and gain understanding of how quarantine has affected your life.

Artist and Lee and Seymour Graff Professor Kathy Aoki offers the following guidelines for visual art submissions, and shares videos for best practices on photographing your artwork for digital submission:

  • File Type: JPEG or JPG preferred (PDF also accepted)
  • File Dimensions: 1,200 pixels or greater on the longest side.
  • File Size: Under 5 MB
Watch this video from Saatchi Art, an online art gallery with a massive artist network, for tips on taking the best possible photos of your artwork, using simple lighting and camera techniques.
In this video, photographer Amanda Mollindo, who created aftrART to help artists pursue the practical side of art making, offers tips on how to photograph 3D art on your smartphone.