Our Pinterest boards grow daily with recommended reading/watching/listening, and with storytelling tips, narrative news, gear, and more. We curate the best of the collection here on Storyboard weekly. In case you get any down time between the turkey, the football, the shopping, the napping, here’s a bit of Thanksgiving Week reading. Enjoy.
From our Recommended Reading board:
The New York Times continues its push for new storytelling partnerships by teaming up with Frontline PBS for a multimedia investigative narrative about the suspicious case of a young Florida woman whose death was labeled a suicide. From “Two Gunshots on a Summer Night,” by Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber:
Within days of the shooting, a woman at a computer 2,700 miles away in Washington State came across a tiny news article that struck her as odd. It reported that the unidentified girlfriend of an unidentified deputy sheriff in St. Augustine had used his service weapon to take her own life, and that no foul play was suspected.
Over the years, the woman, who blogs as “Cloudwriter,” had trained herself to spot suspicious cases of domestic abuse involving police officers. The subject had special meaning for her, she said, because she had had a troubled marriage to a police officer.
After reading the article, published Sept. 3, 2010, she became angry that the names had been withheld. “She deserved a name,” said the blogger, who does not want to be identified for fear of threats. “She deserved an investigation. She deserved media coverage. She deserved for the conditions to be examined the same as me. I would want that, and I want that for her.”
Maryn McKenna’s “Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future,” posted on Medium via the Food & Environment Reporting Network, isn’t narrative, and it may call forth your breakfast, but a science piece engagingly written is always worth a look. Excerpt:
I had always heard Joe had been injured at work: not burned, but bruised and cut when a heavy brass hose nozzle fell on him. The article revealed what happened next. Through one of the scrapes, an infection set in. After a few days, he developed an ache in one shoulder; two days later, a fever. His wife and the neighborhood doctor struggled for two weeks to take care of him, then flagged down a taxi and drove him fifteen miles to the hospital in my grandparents’ town. He was there one more week, shaking with chills and muttering through hallucinations, and then sinking into a coma as his organs failed. Desperate to save his life, the men from his firehouse lined up to give blood. Nothing worked. He was thirty when he died, in March 1938.
In Esquire, Mark Warren and Tom Junod tell the story of a Mississippi cancer patient and a Manhattan genomic scientist who may have met just in time. The magazine is calling the piece “the most extraordinary story we’ve ever published.” [Update: The story has received significant criticism from Paul Raeburn, of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Tracker blog, for being heavy on narrative, light on scientific evidence. You can read CJR‘s coverage here.] A slice from the Esquire story:
It was a brilliant early morning—Friday, October 18—when I walked with Stephanie into Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She exited the elevator on the third floor and told the woman behind the desk the name of the person she was meeting. The woman said, “Ms. Lee? Welcome to Mount Sinai.”
“Oh, my God, Mark,” she whispered to me. “Do they know me here?”
They knew her extraordinarily well; knew her down to the cellular and even the molecular level. And the fact that these thinkers were thinking about her inspired in Stephanie a combination of awe and relief. Stephanie had not only been resentful about being treated “like a number” at Keesler; she was terrified, because being treated like a number is a terrifying thing. It’s primally terrifying, because you begin losing your identity even before you begin to die. At Sinai, she was Stephanie Lee. She had cancer. They were cancer specialists. They were pleased to meet her.
Tips board: The Rumpus’ “Ten Billion Tips on Becoming a Better Writer” aims at fiction but some of the lessons apply to journalistic storytelling, including:
3) Avoid alliteration.
5) READ articles about writing. READ articles about writing. READ MORE articles about writing.
17) Nine times out of ten, a concise, clear sentence trumps a meandering, poetic one.
From our Best of Storyboard board: One of our most popular posts is “What’s on your syllabus?” — it features the reading lists of narrative writing professors and authors including Mark Bowden, Rebecca Skloot and Jeff Sharlet. We asked them to tell us not only what readings they assign, but also why. Here’s Skloot, author of the narrative nonfiction best-seller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, on structure:
Structure: As for specific stories, structure is one of the most essential tools for writers to understand, so I absolutely harp on it in the classroom. We read and discuss a wide range of structures to really tease apart what structure is, how it’s held together, how it impacts the reading of a story. I always start teaching structure with something very basic, but still creative. One example: “How to Get Out of a Locked Trunk,” by Philip Weiss, which has a straightforward chronological structure (guy goes on a quest to figure out how to get out of a locked trunk). But of course the essay isn’t about getting out of a locked trunk – it’s about marriage, commitment, fear. Pieces like that are a good starting place to lay the groundwork and vocabulary for talking about more complicated structures. As a next step, “Travels in Georgia,” by John McPhee, is one of my essential go-to pieces for teaching structure because it’s brilliantly built. I talked a bit about that piece and why I use it here. Once we’ve covered that, I like to use a wide range of pieces with unusual or surprising structures, like Dinty Moore’s wonderful “Son of Mr. Green Jeans,” which uses the alphabet to organize short vignette-like paragraphs that collectively tell a story of fatherhood. Also Randy Shilts’ “Talking AIDS to Death,” and Lê Thi Diem Thúy’s “The Gangster We Are All Looking For.” (As an aside, I just finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which would be a fun one to teach structure-wise. I find that reading fiction for structure can be very helpful for nonfiction writers, to help get them thinking about story, narrative drive, etc.)