If you’ve ever spent some time nosing around Storyboard you know we archive everything from interactive narratives to original essays on craft, in which masters such as Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Rick Meyer and Walt Harrington offer tips on developing characters, finding stories, writing scenes and more. Some of the 26 pieces feel fresh even a decade later. Here’s Bruce DeSilva, for instance, on endings:
A good ending absolutely, positively, must do three things at a minimum. It must tell the reader the story is over. Must do that. It also needs to nail the central point of the story to the reader’s mind. You have to be leaving him with the thought you want him to be taking away from the story. And it should resonate, it really should. You should hear it echoing in your head when you put the paper down, when you turn the page. It shouldn’t just end and have a central point. It should stay with you and make you think a little bit.
The very best endings do something in addition to that. They surprise you a little. There’s a kind of twist to them that’s unexpected. And yet when you think about it for a second, you realize it’s exactly right.
We’ve curated three of our favorite craft essays for your weekend reading pleasure, starting with a piece that defines the genre. As narrative journalism spreads worldwide, sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics.
Narrative 101, by Rebecca Allen
In “News Feature v. Narrative: What’s the Difference?” Rebecca Allen, now the Orange County Register’s deputy editor of features and business, cuts a clear pattern for anyone confused by anecdote and scene, by quote and dialogue:
A narrative is a story that has a beginning, middle and end. It engages the reader’s mind and heart. It shows actors moving across its stage, revealing their characters through their actions and their speech. At its heart, a narrative contains a mystery or a question − something that compels the reader to keep reading and find out what happens. Newspaper narratives are also entirely true and factual in every detail.
Long or short? Short!, by Jack Hart
In “The Art of the Short Story,” Jack Hart, author, most recently, of Storycraft, suggests building (or rebuilding) audience by assigning the great writers to more bursts of short-form storytelling, the way Hemingway used to do it in Kansas City and Toronto:
Sunday story that runs 3,000 words helps. But short daily stories that brighten the weekday paper may be even more important. Short stories reach more people. And they reach them more often. Besides, good storytellers can maintain a much more consistent presence in the paper if they write short – and often. Does a writer have more impact with something that appears once every three months or once every three days?
Seven building blocks of narrative, by Michael Pollan
In “Natural Narratives,” best-selling author Michael Pollan offers principles for writing about science and nature, but the tips apply across genres:
You can also construct a narrative out of arguments, ideas. One of the more challenging pieces I’ve written was “An Animal’s Place,” about animal rights, published in The New York Times Magazine in 2002. The piece is an essay of ideas, but it’s also a narrative about an argument. It’s a play with Peter Singer, the animal rights philosopher, and me as characters. The first line of the piece is, “The first time I opened Peter Singer’s ‘Animal Liberation,’ I was dining alone at the Palm, trying to enjoy a rib-eye steak cooked medium-rare.”
Here’s the whole drama of that piece: Do I finish the steak or not?