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Writing, Re-writing and Editing for Structure (Part I)

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Presentation on theme: "Writing, Re-writing and Editing for Structure (Part I)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Writing, Re-writing and Editing for Structure (Part I)

2 = Developing a Story that Works

3 What are the elements of a story? Setting Characters Conflict Plot (with rising action, climax, denouement) Point of view Theme But having those doesn’t automatically give you a story.

4 Summarizing Intro Inverted Pyramid Structure Major Details Minor Details

5 Typical Structure for Scientific American Features Lede Nut graf History/c ontext Future directions Conclusion /kicker

6 Chronological Block 1 Typical Structure for Scientific American Features (cont’d.) Block 2 Block 3 Etc.

7 Progression of Ideas & Arguments Argument 1 Typical Structure for Scientific American Features (cont’d.) Argument 2 Argument 3 Etc.

8 What is Story Structure? And Why Does It Matter?

9 Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee (It Books, 1997)

10 Story structure is a strategically composed sequence of events selected from the characters’ lives that arouses a satisfying series of emotions and expresses a specific view of life. A story event creates meaningful change in a character’s situation that is achieved through conflict. Paraphrasing McKee:

11 Story structure is a strategically composed sequence of events and ideas selected from the characters’ lives and from the studied phenomena that arouses a satisfying series of emotions and expresses a specific understanding of science. A story event creates meaningful change in a character’s situation or in scientific understanding that is achieved through conflict or discovery. Adapting McKee for science journalism:

12 Per McKee: The Five Functional Parts of a Successful Narrative Inciting Incident Progressive Complications Crisis Climax Resolution

13 What Your Story Is About BeginningEnding Storyline: How the characters engage with conflict What characters want What characters get

14 Learning from Vonnegut

15 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible.

16 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Know what your story is about. Let your reader know. Make good on that promise. Know what your story is about. Let your reader know. Make good on that promise.

17 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Have protagonists and antagonists.

18 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Your characters need motives. What is at stake? Your characters need motives. What is at stake?

19 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. If information doesn’t contribute to the story, it doesn’t belong.

20 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Leave out what doesn’t belong. Focus keeps the reader attentive. Leave out what doesn’t belong. Focus keeps the reader attentive.

21 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Conflict. Without conflict, there is no story.

22 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Have a specific audience in mind. Know what that audience wants. Have a specific audience in mind. Know what that audience wants.

23 Vonnegut’s Storytelling Advice ①Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel it was wasted. ②Give the reader at least one character that he or she can root for. ③Every character should want something. ④Every sentence must do at least one of two things: reveal character or advance the action. ⑤Start as close to the end as possible. ⑥Be a sadist. ⑦Write to please just one person. ⑧Give your reader as much information as possible as soon as possible. Give information at the right time and place in a story—not too soon, not too late—in service to the story arc.

24 John McPhee It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story— after you’ve put all this stuff aside. … It may sound like I’ve got some sort of formula by which I write. Hell, no! You’re out there completely on your own—all you’ve got to do is write. On using an outline:

25 John McPhee Structure is not a template. It’s not a cookie cutter. It’s something that arises organically from the material once you have it. In “The Encircled River” I go to Alaska, and make that trip, and soak up that world. … It’s the story of a journey. Within that journey certain things happened, such as an encounter with a big grizzly. That grizzly encounter was a pretty exciting thing, and it happened near the beginning of the trip. That was somewhat inconvenient structurally, because it’s such a climactic event. But you can’t move that bear, because this is a piece of nonfiction writing. … On using structure to the story’s advantage:

26 John McPhee … But what if you started telling the piece of writing further down the river, I wondered. That way, when you get to the end of the trip, you’re really only halfway through the story. What you do then is switch to the past tense, creating a flashback, and you back up and start your trip over again. By the time you get to that bear, that bear is at the perfect place for a climax. That’s what’s exciting about nonfiction writing. In this case it’s a simple flashback, but it also echoes all these cycles of the present and the past. On using structure to the story’s advantage:

27 Essential Building Blocks for Feature Storytelling

28 Feature ledes: Feature ledes & nut grafs lure and invoke the story—they hint where it will go They justify the story’s existence as a demand on reader’s attention They compel the reader to finish the story by making promises

29 Transitions: Never Let the Readers Go Inner vs. outer transitions How big a jump can your readers cross? Look for the hidden seams

30 Kickers: The words that ring in their ears… Give closure to the article—narratively and emotionally They shape readers’ last memories of the article A great kicker makes readers want to do something with the article: share it, act on it, etc.

31 Don’t Rough the Kicker Don’t get too clever for your own good Lay the groundwork for the kicker earlier in the article—don’t swerve at the last second

32 Some additional suggestions Think in terms of scenes. What’s the minimum number of characters, settings, ideas, etc., you need to tell this story? Beware of beautiful language. Be willing to kill your favorites. Interleaving chronologies can be good. But if you’re using flashbacks, ask yourself why. Try cutting off the beginning and the end to see what happens.

33 Advice and Examples of Stories that Works

34 Rebecca Skloot Video of her talking about how structure helps her tell the story: rebeccaskloot.com/writing/writing-resources

35 The Open Notebook

36 Nieman Storyboard: Editors’ Roundtable

37 Nieman Storyboard: Why’s This So Good?


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