Tuesday, March 1, 2011

in so many words: good ideas for making writing sing.

Check out this essay by Poynter's Roy Peter Clark that includes several tips for writing short stories that soar or making any writing rise above the ordinary. It's good advice for newspaper writing that can -- and should -- be applied to magazine writing, too.

Here's one tip to make will you hungry for more:

Thaw out the 5 Ws and H

This advice comes from editor Rick Zahler at The Seattle Times. The traditional version of the 5W’s freezes those story elements into informational ice cubes. If you thaw them out, the narrative begins to flow. Who becomes Character. What becomes Action. Where becomes Setting. When becomes Chronology. Why becomes Motive. How becomes Narrative. One of the great reporters of his day was Meyer Berger of The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer in the late 1940s for his narrative reconstruction of a multiple shooting. He wrote it on deadline and at great length. But he also was the master of the short human interest feature. Just before his death in 1959, he wrote a story, about 1,200 words on an old, poor, blind man who was once a classical musician. Then he wrote a sequel:

Eight violins were offered the other day to Laurence Stroetz, the 82-year-old, cataract-blinded violinist who was taken to St. Clare’s Hospital in East Seventy-first Street from a Bowery flophouse. The offers came from men and women who had read that though he had once played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he had been without a violin for more than 30 years.

The first instrument to reach the hospital was a gift from the Lighthouse, the institution for the sightless. It was delivered by a blind man. A nun took it to the octogenarian.

He played it a while, tenderly and softly, then gave it back. He said: ‘This is a fine old violin. Tell the owner to take good care of it.’ The white-clad nun said: ‘It is your violin, Mr. Stroetz. It is a gift.’ The old man bent his head over it. He wept.

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