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Review: Writing for Story

Writing for Story by Jon Franklin is a book about writing and creating story.  Franklin, a two-time Pulizter Prize Winner, focuses on how to write the “nonfiction short story,” basically a newspaper feature story.  Franklin walks the reader through his writing process, his concept of story, and includes two articles with detailed annotations showing how he wrote those pieces.

I have two conflicting opinions on Writing for Story .  I didn’t like the way Franklin kept dictating an inflexible writing process, as if his way to write was the only way to write.   However, I loved the way Franklin conceptualizes news stories as short stories.

In the preface, Franklin characterizes himself as a guy that got frustrated with writing books that called writing an art, insisting that you either had “it” or you didn’t.  Despite not having “it,” Franklin trained himself to be a “conscious” writer that relies on the patterns of effective stories to write well. The writing style he had developed for himself, his “cookbook approach,” has very specific writing preparation, ways to outline, and concepts to think about story.

While I respect his need for ordered writing, I just can’t agree with his insistence that everyone should write as he does.  I firmly believe that writing is an individual process, and although there are techniques we can teach people in order to help them be better writers, no one technique will work for everyone.  Franklin’s approach may work for him and may work for others, but it is not the only way to write, and I was annoyed in the way I felt he insisted that it was.

The thing I loved about this book was the way Franklin helped me re-think about the way I think about news stories.  Journalists are taught the inverted pyramid style to write stories that are informational but, most of the time, pretty bland.  Franklin thinks about news in the way we think about short stories — characters move via a plot towards a conflict and a resolution to the conflict.

I think that is brilliant.  Maybe I’m just behind the curve in not thinking like this yet, but if more people did this in everyday news writing it could, perhaps, lead to more interesting news stories that really try to get at themes that resonate rather than just reiterate numbers and statistics in some bland manner.  I think that’s cool.

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This post is part of National Blog Posting Month for the month of November. You can find out more about NaBloPoMo here and view my NaBloPoMo profile page here. Thanks for reading!

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  • Teresa November 10, 2008, 2:35 pm

    Wow, this brings back memories. This was the text for the literary journalism class I took umpteen-zillion (okay, eight) years ago. I found it helpful, mostly in that it encourages a deliberate approach, but I agree with you that this approach, and this story structure, would not work well for all writers, or all stories.

  • Kim November 10, 2008, 7:39 pm

    Teresa: Yeah, this is one of the books we read for our beginning reporting class this year. I like the deliberative-ness of it, since I think it’s important to develop a writing process, I just didn’t think his process would really work for me.

  • theexile November 10, 2008, 9:25 pm

    With almost every writing book I’ve ever read, the writer inserts his or her process into the text. Sometimes seeing the process — especially when they show editing and editing choices — explained can be useful, and it’s interesting to experiment with different processes. There are some things you may find that work for you, but, yeah, the process is individual.

    This sounds like an interesting book, and any form you learn is just a tool in the toolkit, even dry inverted pyramid, which is useful for the purpose it’s designed for — to convey information quickly and effectively.

  • Kim November 11, 2008, 4:25 pm

    theexile: Yeah, seeing process can be helpful because it can give you ideas about what you might do differently. Franklin just had these sections where he talked about his way of say, outlining, as the only way you could possibly do it, which I found frustrating.

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