Narrative Writing Toolbox
When my colleague stopped in the managing editor’s office to discuss a story, it was just the police scanner and me nearby, the start of what looked to be a quiet Monday morning. Then everything changed. You likely heard the rest on the news, or reported it yourself: a shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., outside Portland.
In a previous column I turned to readers to see if any wanted to participate in an on-going experiment to help writers make the leap from news to features, and from features to narrative. We work in a cluttered and competitive media world, battling for the attention of consumers who can choose radio, television, hundreds of newspaper sites and websites that aggregate news.
With this column, I’m launching something that will be an added feature. Yes, I’m going to continue discussing specific writing techniques and thoughts writers can use to improve their narrative attempts. But I’ve heard from many new writers who want to get started.
One of my goals with this column is to strip away the mystery and intrigue that so often surrounds writing. Because writers are insecure about what we do, it’s easy to feel as if the hand of God touched only a select few who are simply so brilliant that it would be folly for anyone to attempt what they do.
Stripping out expectations of news writing By Tom Hallman Jr. In past columns I’ve written about the use of voice and why it matters in your stories. Scenic structure, theme and character are critical elements in a powerful narrative. So, too, is the use of voice.
As happens at any journalism conference, some of the most powerful conversations occur in coffee shops, bars and hotel lobbies long after the formal seminar is over. Away from the crowd, people feel free to ask the kinds of questions that touch on their concerns as they move forward in an industry that’s changing — and will continue to change dramatically in the coming months and years.
Just when curriculums started getting their arms around multimedia storytelling — a slow and sometimes painful journey — a new bully showed up in the schoolyard: data. Not that the idea of telling compelling stories using data is new. It’s not.
I recently heard a song that made me think about writing. Performed by Wooden Wand, “Winter in Kentucky” features character and a story, and it left me thinking about the twists and turns in a life. After hearing it, I thought about the lessons we can take away from songs as writers.
When you sit down to finally write, it’s natural to plunge in and think of the story in terms of reporting — flipping through your notebook for a great quote — and working to craft a snappy lead. That’s fine when it comes to breaking news and briefs, but for a feature you need to think differently.
Since my teammates were working on other stories, it fell to me to grab the press release, scan the information and write something to post to the Web. I made a call, got a quote and within 15 minutes had this on the paper’s site: Authorities took a 2-year-old boy into protective custody Wednesday after police found his mother had died, apparently two days ago, of natural causes inside her Southeast Portland home, the Portland Police Bureau reported.
If you haven’t seen The New York Times’ amazing online package from Dec. 20 titled “Snow Fall,” you should. The article is about a devastating avalanche in February 2012 at the Tunnel Creek section of Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.
You know that weird phenomenon wherein you say a word over and over, and suddenly it doesn’t seem a word at all, just an unintelligible collection of letters? It can be any word — trilogy, say, or bunkhouse, or millisecond. You repeat it until your synapses stop firing or whatever, and you slap yourself in the head and say trilogy — wait, is that even a word?