Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction/Producing Online News: Digital Skills, Stronger Stories

Article excerpt

Jack Hart Story Craft The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 201 1. 252 pp.

Ryan M. Thornburg Producing Online News: Digital Skills, Stronger Stories. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011.405pp.

The art of storytelling, across a variety of media platforms, is transforming journalism and media education. Hart's Story Craft succeeds by focusing on "narrative possibilities" for those with a passion for storytelling because of application breadth:

Story makes sense out of a confusing universe by showing us how one action leads to another. It teaches us how to live by discovering how our fellow human beings overcome the challenges in their lives. And it helps us discover the universals that bind us to everything around us. (p. 5)

Story, to Hart, is universal because a good story has no print and broadcast division. Thus, the opening chapter reveals the essential principles - a sequence of actions, a sympathetic character, a complication, and a resolution. From this foundation, Hart smoothly moves the readers to structure. Visual representations of a narrative arc explained through useful examples.

Story Craft then turns to the importance of a point of view. Rather than wrestling with journalistic objectivity, Hart challenges the reader to consider decisions about stance, distance, and the ladder of abstraction, which he sees as "one of the most useful concepts for any writer" (p. 55).

Young writers often struggle to find their voice and style, but Hart drills down by identifying and explaining institutional voice, the first person voice, persona, and position. While some find fun in developing voice, Hart admits to his readers that it is more like pain reduction: "So I try to relax, sliding into an easy rhythm that moves ahead quickly and smoothly" (p. 74). Hart moves on in the book to address, through brief chapters, character, scene, and dialogue. A former managing editor and writing coach at The Oregonian and faculty member at six universities, he clearly brings a liberal arts perspective to journalism. He reserves for chapter 10 the topic of reporting and notes, "The newsies who'd been trained my way, with pro forma beat reporting and a checklist of official sources, were skeptical of the narrative approach" (p. 146). It demands immersion, access, observation, reconstructive narrative, interviewing, and an eye for a story. Throughout the book, Hart's examples return the reader to the narrative arc to demonstrate exactly how and where stories use narrative structure and technique. While the reader may now be ready for Hart's concluding chapter on ethics, some journalism professors may worry that it again has been relegated to the end of the textbook. Likewise, there is little here to signal to the novice storyteller that his or her work may raise legal concerns.

If great storytelling skills are what is needed to save American newspapers and electronic media from the tsunami of technological change brought by the Internet, Thornburg's Producing Online News takes the point of view that online news is different:

As an online journalist, you'll still work with the traditional elements and values of news. But you'll also take advantage of the three attributes of online communication that make reporting, producing and distributing your stories via the Internet fundamentally different from working in any other medium, (p. …