Showing posts with label organization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organization. Show all posts

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is narrative always the right answer?

"Those of us who love narrative might be tempted to say that it conquers all. But are there some experiences which are perceived as being so subjective—or about which readers may be so committed to an opinion—that writing a piece as a pure narrative might work against the story?"

Andrea Pitzer of the Nieman Narrative Digest poses that question in an essay about a narrative on a woman's struggle to leave an abuser.

Pitzer notes that narrative has techniques to address the shortcomings that might come with telling a story from, for example, one person's perspective. And she says the author "makes sure we don’t dismiss her article as more advocacy than journalism by anticipating the moments when context, facts, and quotes from lawyers or policemen will make her story stronger."

I must say I can't immediately see why a narrative writer wouldn't try to do everything he/she could to ensure a piece doesn't come off as advocacy, because advocacy journalism lacks the credibility and force of well-done independent journalism.

But the question Pitzer asks is a good one, and reminds us that we should always be asking how best to tell a particular story, and vetting our decisions to make sure the story is told as well, and accurately and independently, as it can be.

Building instructions

Pretty good story here in The Washington Post. It's about government spending and the Army and documents and contracts ... but it's a human story. It's a good one to look at for several reasons:

  • It has a solid, logical, clean structure that works -- and that we can use (and have used) here with investigative or other enterprise pieces: It starts, essentially, with a four-graf anecdote. Importantly, the anecdote sets the tone for the rest of the story, it isn't just a neat little scene that doesn't do any heavy lifting for the story.
  • Graf 5 introduces the characters, then hits you with the 'why this matters' sentence.
  • Grafs 6-8 are the nut grafs; they deliver the core news of the story and link it to the broader subject (government corruption).
  • Grafs 9-12 develop the nut graf and set up the main character's position.
  • Graf 13 loops back to start the forward motion of the human story: "They met in the spring of 2004 ...."
That's a fairly standard formula for how to structure a piece like this. But it's well worth using, because when done right, it really works. This writer used it to make this a human story about corruption, not a story about corruption that happened to have some human beings in it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jacqui on better story focusing

Key things I took from Jacqui's videoconference this afternoon, and there will be more later on some of these (and by all means, add your thoughts here, or do your own posts, whatever ... let's help each other out).

But anyway, these will definitely be some of the things I'll be working on in terms of how I do my job and how I can help you do yours:

--Recognize that you have a writing process (see April 7 entry), things you do or habits you have that help you write. Realize that you can control it more, and when you do, you will help yourself become better.

--The story idea, or 'generating plan' as Jacqui referred to it, is not the story. But it doesn't mean you can't discuss possibilities. So, make two lists:
  • What do I need to know? And how am I going to find out? These are the basic points your story must cover.
  • What do I want to know? And how am I going to find that out? This is the question that opens up possibilities for deeper stories, including narrative and investigative pieces. Make sure you get the basics to be able to write the basic story. Pursue, either for daily or longer-range, the story that arises from answering Question 2.
--The best things an editor can do is to ask the right questions: not how long the story will be, whether there's a photo with it, etc., but what did you find out? what are you missing? what are you worried about? what's the most interesting thing? how would you tell the story in 3 grafs?

--Use budgetlines as a tool and, she says, even as a weapon. Budgetlines can seem like makework to please an editor who's staring at the daily or Sunday budget (and they do serve that purpose too) but they can help you distill what your story's about, help sell that story to editors and the copy desk to ensure it gets treated right; communicates with photo and design; and essentially allows you to talk to yourself about your story. If you can't write a decent budgetline for your story, Jacqui said, you probably don't really know what it's about.

She suggested also checking out the two-sentence story and six-word memoir sites online as interesting ways to think of how to write a strong budgetline.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Note on April 22 bagger

I'll bring this up at Amy's bagger tomorrow (the 8th), but:

Part of Amy's bagger will focus on the writing process, that all writers go through: You have an idea, you report, you focus your story, you organize your notes and your story, you write, and then you revise.

When Jacqui does her videoconference April 22, she plans to work with you on how you determine the focus of a story and how you organize your notes. She may ask some of you to explain your writing processes, and likely will drill down to a few "organizational/structural blueprints" that you can use in different writing situations.

So keep that in the back of your mind as Amy goes through the writing process and forensic editing.