Thursday, April 5, 2007

Ordinary people, extraordinary stories

We often are called upon, and often seek, to tell stories about ordinary people. Susan Orlean is one of the best at writing such stories, and acknowledges the risk involved:

"Readers are initially resistant to a story about an 'ordinary' person. Persuading someone to read a piece about a 10-year-old boy who's not a 'star' is quite a challenge. All you can bring to it is your passion. There's got to be something you're trying to say. And there has to be a reason that a reader will read what you're writing. There's nothing that's obviously sexy about these stories. So, among other things, you need to write a good lead."

She talks more about leads -- and other things such as how it can be difficult to find the story in an ordinary person's life -- in an interview with the University of Oregon's Literary Nonfiction program.