From: James Patrick Buchanan
TO: John Hatcher
Journalism 4001, Thursday, 1/21
The New Kings Introduction
Ira Glass wrote "But I didn't see anything wrong with a piece of reporting turning into a fable" or allegory about modern America. In my own mind, these "funny, vivid anecdotes" in nonfiction storytelling are what give my audience real insights into a given context and the bigger issues of the day. Readers can relate to the story of one unemployed adult much better than a dry story about one million unemployed adults.
For example, suppose you are writing a news story about reasons why people would ride the possible Northern Lights Express (NLX) line from Minneapolis to Duluth. You could write about a winter ice storm that sends cars and vans off the highways between Duluth and Hinckley.
You could ride along with a tow truck crew, interviewing these drivers, passengers, and tow truck crews about their experiences during an ice storm. You could interview these unfortunate drivers and their passengers, asking them what would be more expansive, paying for a tow truck to pull their cars and vans out of a ditch and possible car repairs, or buying a ticket on the Northern Light Express? How could a reader not be entertained by such a story?
I got this idea while I was taking a bus ride to the Twin Cities on Interstate 35 during, as you may have already guessed, an ice storm. At one point, I saw a young man on crutches all by himself, standing beside the highway. I wondered what he was doing there and how he managed to get to the middle of farms and forests on crutches? When my bus passed him, I saw his car had skidded off the road and down into a deep drainage ditch.
While I'm taking on the role of a student reporter, I would like to know just what this man was thinking as my bus passed him by? How did he manage on crutches to walk up such a steep slope, covered in snow and a thin coat of ice? What was it like trying to keep warm in the freezing rain and trying to keep his balance on the icy roadway? What was he thinking as he watched another car being pulled out of the same ditch just a short walk from his own lonely vigil over his own car? What "joy and empathy and pleasure" in my nonfiction narrative of that young man staring down at his stranded car at the bottom of an Interstate 35 drainage ditch that could I give my reader a sense of value that the Northern Lights Express line would give to their own lives? These are some ideas that "interest and amuse" me as a writer and as a person.
Telling True Stories Introduction
Jacqui Banaszynski starts the introduction on the power of storytelling singing. I agree that stories are about the human narrative. You are a storyteller if you answer the question, "What happened next?"
Gay Talese talks about reporting on the daily lives of everyday people that provides new insights to the reader on the larger issues of the day. Gay Talese describes an interesting take on how Yu Ling, a Chinese woman missing a kick in a televised soccer game, became a metaphor for American Chinese relationships. From that one idea, Gay Talese spent an entire year to write about Yu Ling. I realized how much time you can spend writing from just one simple idea.
David Halberstam discusses several examples of how to turn a one sentence idea into narrative nonfiction. I like the lines, "You must be able to point to something larger" and "I've been paid to learn, to ask questions, to think."
Katherine Boo wrote that it is narrative that makes depressing information easier to read and easier to relate to. I'm reminded of the Latin proverb, "It is solved by walking." Katherine Boo might rephrase this bit of wisdom to "Your story is found by walking." Additionally, I found in my own nonfiction manuscripts that collecting facts and interviewing people is hard work. What is even harder work is cutting all that information down into one manuscript and arranging these separate ideas so that the reader can easily flow their eyes from one idea to the next one.
By the way, I was wondering if I could bring in a sample of my published nonfiction writing and have our class review and edit it to make it a more interesting read?