Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Some Notes on Story Craft

Creating the story

This requires three things:
  • Conceptualizing an idea.
  • Reporting it.
  • Writing it.

Reporting the story

Once you have conceptualized your topic, you need to:
  • Access sources
  • Conduct field work
  • Interview sources
  • Spend time with and observe your sources and zip your lip (interviewing really offers little to your story, while observation can give your story dimension and heft)
  • Take notes (just like a movie, use 5% of what you shoot)
  • Process your notes
  • And while doing so, begin to structure your story (try to use a timeline)
  • Draft a first version (and it can be your “shitty first draft”)
  • Revise
  • Revise
  • Revise

Some techniques to follow

(Adapted from Intimate Journalism: The Art and Craft of Reporting Everyday Life by Walt Harrington).

In his book, the writer Walt Harrington describes “intimate journalism” as “news you can feel,” which aims to “describe and evoke how people live and what they value”.

  • Think, report and write in scenes. (This means gathering together a series of actions/ conversations and putting them together.)
  • Capture a narrator’s voice and/ or writing the story from the point of view of one or several subjects (deciding on whose view prevails.
  • Gather telling details from our subjects’ lives that evoke the “tone” of that life.
  •  Engage all your senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. Readers have been found to engage far more with a story if two or more of their senses are engaged.
  • Gather real-life dialogue. (We usually report on what people have told us, which means we are relaying this to our audience. But if we report on what people in our stories say to one another, not to us, both we and our readers become the audience.)
  • Gather “interior” monologue that tells what meaning the facts you have gathered have your subjects.
  • Report to establish a timeline that allows you to write a narrative article that at its beginning (1) posits a problem, dilemma or tension that (2) will be resolved or relieved by the end of the story, with (3) a change in your main subject or subjects.
  • Immerse yourself temporarily in the lives of your subjects so they become relaxed in your presence. (This means spending enough time with them and having conversations with them rather than interviews.)
  • Gather physical details of places and people at specific points in conversations or scenes so they can be used at exactly those points in your story.

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