Friday, February 29, 2008

Since Scott thought my last example of storytelling was "freaky..."

This one is even better:

"New Age, BANG, Old Age," is one of a series of short films that translates statistics in a very visual and emotional way. The four shorts by filmmakers Lenka Clayton and James Price were filmed over four weeks in February and arranged 471 Brits by age, yearly income, relationship length and pregnancy. The others are New Love Order, We Make This Much Money and one on women in various stages of pregnancy that I can't find anywhere online.

(Found on 10,000 words)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nice reads

Teresa Cook spotted a couple in the New York Times:
  • The headline and lead on William F. Buckley's obit story:

William F. Buckley Jr., 82, Dies; Sesquipedalian Spark of Right

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died on Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82. (By Douglas Martin. Whole story here.)

  • The obit for W.C. Heinz, which includes some of his writing, such as this passage from a 1949 story about the execution of three German spies:

“I looked at the ground, frost-white, the grass tufts frozen, the soil hard and uneven. I wondered if it is better to die on a warm, bright day among friends, or on a day when even the weather is your enemy. I turned around and looked down into the valley. The mist still hung in the valley, but it was starting to take on a brassy tint from the sun beginning to work through it. I could make out three white farm buildings on the valley floor, a little yellowed now from the weak sunlight, and I could envision this, in the spring a pleasant valley. This view I see now, I said to myself, will be the last thing their eyes will ever see.”

Where in the world is ...

Interactive maps are a way combine stories, photos and videos to tell better stories online.
These maps, sometimes called mashups, allow readers to see where the story is in relation to their world.
Here is an awesome mashup from Freep. It uses stories, photos and video to capture a portrait of Detroit. Be sure to click on the stories tab and read about how they made "a 4-month, 2,700-mile odyssey through Detroit's 2,100 or so streets."
Not all mashups are this complex. Some are just useful or fun tools that allow you to find WiFi hotspots, drive like a madman or find high-risk areas for pirates.
Find more mashups here.

Don't start at the top!

This is kind of the 2008 version of the "three sentences" project - Many Voices on Twitter.

Here is NPR's explanation of the project (and of Twitter), and here's a free piece of advice from me - don't start at the beginning. Start at the end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When everything works together

A woman can't forget about a murder that occurred when she was a student in New York City. A couple decades later, she's a reporter, and investigates the murder. Here is what she found out.

This is a narrative story that breaks news, and just as noteworthy, shows what happens when everything -- reporting, writing, still photography, audio and video -- are working together.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A riveting "how" narrative

Rick Lee's story on the 3-year-old boy's death from meningitis is a story I didn't want to read, because of what I knew it would tell me, but it was a story I could not stop reading.

He used 20 words to tell you, in plain but poignant language and sentence structure, what happened. Then he uses the next nine grafs to tell you how it happened, with clarity and detail that evokes the humanity in this tragic story. Through his story, people will connect with this family. That is a tremendous achievement.

Putting complicated stuff in plain English

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, not a storyteller in the classic sense, though he has written several books (among them, "The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist"). But he knows how to take complicated thoughts or explanations and turn them into accessible, entertaining English -- a skill all of us can use whether we're writing a news story about zoning law or a narrative feature.

Tyson was on XM Radio's Bob Edwards show yesterday, and here are just a couple examples (quotes are in italics because I'm not sure they're 100 percent accurate, but they're very close):

  • On whether there is life on other planets, Tyson said scientists think there may be an underground lake underneath a huge patch of ice on Jupiter's moon Europa. So I want to go ice-fishing on Europa, he said. Cut a hole in the ice, drop a submersible in and see what comes up and licks the camera lens.
  • On the possibility that a meteor will strike Earth, he said scientists are tracking all these "near-earth objects" and one thing they've figured out is that Jupiter makes a difference in the orbits of those meteors. Jupiter basically runs the solar system, he said, because of its gravitational pull. So in some cases, he said, a meteor whose orbit might have it headed for Earth will come close to Jupiter, which will fling it back out into space. So if not for Jupiter, our solar system could be a much worse shooting gallery than it is.
  • On what would happen to you if you got sucked into a black hole, Tyson said that the gravity at your feet would be greater than at your head, so the force would break your body into little pieces as you went through; and then you'd be pulled through space all compressed, like toothpaste in a tube.

On that pleasant thought ... if anyone has come across examples of writers who are able to explain complicated things in everyday language (that's entertaining to boot), post them in comments or on your own post.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

For fun (and about capturing a voice)

Don't know who wrote this. But whoever did, as Randy noted, did a pretty good job of capturing the voices of the subjects. For the dog, it was easy (exclamation points). For the cat, it's about word choice to convey arrogance and scheming. Works pretty well ...

Excerpts from a dog's diary
8:00 am Dog Food! My favorite thing!
9:00 am A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm Lunch!! My Favorite thing
1:00 pm Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm Got to play ball!! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm Sleeping in my bed! My favorite thing!
Excerpts from a cat's diary
Day 893 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling object. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.
The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.
In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.
Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am.
There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies". I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.
Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow - but at the top of the stairs.
I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches.
The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.
The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe.....for now.....

Malcolm Gladwell's word games

Melissa and I were chatting about Malcolm Gladwell's contribution to last week's episode of "This American Life" Tough Room in which he shares how terrifying his first experience in a newsroom was. The best part of the the act is what perverse and often baffling things he does to deal with his fear.

Also part of the show was a peek inside The Onion's "newsroom," which is also rather amusing.

This got me to thinking, are there any stories we could be writing about tough rooms?

If you have 45 minutes or so, listen to the show and share your thoughts. If you only have five minutes, fast forward (if you can even do that with a podcast) and listen to Gladwell, it's totally worth the small amount of time you'd be investing.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tornado narrative

The tornadoes in the South are stories that easily lend themselves to narrative in the right context.

This one's an amazing tale, as you can tell from the headline, "'It's Not a Baby Doll -- It's Alive.'"

The writing is spare and compelling, although I felt some emotion was missing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Stewie discusses narrative

So I realize this the second time I've degraded the classiness of this blog with my YouTube videos. But I saw this clip last night on "Family Guy" and I thought it was appropriate for the procrastinating storytellers among us: