2007 was the Year of Storytelling and complication-resolution writing. In 2008, Felix Feneon and his "Novels in Three Lines" inspired us to talk about the parts of writing that make up the whole. In 2009 we'll keep looking for narrative opportunities while focusing on reporting, writing and editing with help from Jacqui Banaszynski.
Writers' group tips from the 2007 Year of Storytelling
March: We talked about reconstructing scenes that happened in the past or ones we didn't actually witness and the difficulty of this. Melissa made a good point that you have to choose carefully which scenes are so integral to your tale that you want to go to that effort. Regular folks don't always record and remember things the same way we -- who are paid to do this -- might. One solution proposed was to recreate the scene of the person recounting the tale rather than the tale itself.
March: Jenni Nejman passed out tips melded from a Poynter handout and her own experience. Included was this tip: Ask for any paperwork that can answer your questions, memos, letters, etc. Ask the people if they mind checking their memories against that. Once the copy desk called me about a question in my story so I called my source on a Sunday and she said, "Oh yeah, after I talked with my husband I realized that I told you something happened 5 years later than it actually did." She never called me to correct her error and I never would have found it, if a copy editor hadn’t chanced upon another question in the story. ... With Monday profiles, I make it a policy to recall the person after the story is written and right before I file it to go over the biography section. I learned myself, I’m terrible with placing things in my own life. I was looking at photos of myself that my mom had gotten out for a family event and I only guessed one age correctly. (I was close but off by a year on most of them). Want all the tips? See or e-mail Scott B.
March:Tom Joyce challenged the group to sum up stories (plot and theme) in six words. See the post archive for "Six Little Words."
April: Nicki Lefever led a discussion on finding different sources to make stories more interesting. A brainstorm produced ideas such as talking to the fired police chief's mother or to little league players about stadium construction. The group talked about going to regular sources and asking them who to talk to who might have different perspectives; Jeff Frantz suggested asking them what you should know that other people might not tell you.
May: The group talked about finding stories on your way to work. And about going after a story that makes you curious, as a way of staying passionate and creative, and rewarding a reader or two.
June: Angie led a discussion on quotes -- when to use them or not, how to use and attribute, and length of quotes. Couple thoughts: Use them judiciously, not wantonly, to get maximum impact; vary where your attribution is so you do not always have sentences ending in 'she said,' for example.
July: Group discussed Thomas Curwen's story "A hike into horror and an act of courage." The talk focused on pacing -- the idea of leading with the action and then taking a step back to give readers the context, larger picture, etc., then zooming in again to focus on the action. The idea is to balance the suspense and action.
August: The group did an on-the-spot free write of the definition of the word "cynicism." The idea was to think about the different connotations of similar words and how to be precise when choosing words -- a good thing to remember, particularly if you're on deadline.
October: Scott B. led a discussion on making the year of storytelling a beginning; on using our focus on storytelling to develop skills that you can use for any story, any situation; on being patient and knowing that nothing comes all at once but is built over time; and on reading all you can, as many different forms or genres as you can.
Writing advice from the 2007 Year of Storytelling
Narrative Best Practices 1