Thursday, February 19, 2009

Learning from an attempted narrative

I don't mean to criticize this piece that appeared in the Lancaster New Era, because I don't know the circumstances/deadlines under which it was written and edited.

But it's a good one to look at to see what amounts to a partially formed narrative about a compelling event -- two divers who drifted away from their boat off the Australian coast and waited hours to be rescued.

Basically, the writer got a long interview and connected long quotes with some transitions and some paragraphs that give information you need to know. You can see some of the key parts of narrative here: Beginning with action; an early line announcing the conflict ("And what he saw alarmed him"); the nut grafs that tell you this is going to be a "how this happened" narrative as opposed to a "what happened" narrative.

But there are missed opportunities in the reporting and the writing. The diver is the only source in story. She is not fleshed out as someone we should care about beyond the fact that she was a human being stranded in the ocean; we can't really connect with her. In the writing, there is very little pacing to build up to the resolution, so the resolution, when the helicopter finds them, passes by almost unremarkably (it should be the high point of the story). The writing steps on itself during one of the key tension points -- when they are in the water and see airplanes -- by using the word 'saw' three times in six paragraphs.

So again ... it remains an interesting interview and story the way it's written. I think it helps, though, to think about how much more it could have been, and what it would have taken to really tell this story.