Magazine article Editor & Publisher


Magazine article Editor & Publisher


Article excerpt

The story lies somewhere in the roots of our humanity. It is so basic to our thinking, so fundamental to the way we describe the world, that its endlessly repeating patterns could come only from the core of our consciousness. It has its origin in deep antiquity, and Aristotle described its underlying structure 2,300 years ago.

Nothing about the basic approach has changed since then. Virtually all movies employ it. So do most novels. All but the most avant-garde of short stories follow the same pattern. Many magazine articles do too.

That form is so powerful that writers who master it often reap rewards far beyond those justified by their stylistic abilities. The best-seller lists are full of authors who ignore the most basic guidelines for using words and crafting sentences. They make millions while many newspaper writers knock down the kind of salaries that make plumbers smirk. Why? Because a mastery of story structure captures the popular imagination in a way that most newspaper writing never does.

Journalists often miss that point because they use the term "story" to describe anything appearing on newsprint. The masters of storytelling, on the other hand, have extremely clear ideas about what is -- and is not -- a story. The abstract reports that we journalists call stories don't even come close to meeting those standards.

That wasn't always the case. Once, newspaper writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Damon Runyon and Jack Lait used real-world facts to craft true stories for the front page. They, in turn, were simply carrying on a tradition nourished by newspapermen such as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.

Now there's a nationwide movement to bring back the old way. Jon Franklin's Writing for Story, Bill Blundell's Art and Craft of Feature Writing and the chatter at such places as the Poynter Institute and American Press Institute all tout the virtues of traditional storytelling. Not with the idea that it will replace inverted-pyramid reporting. But with the hope that it will add a valuable new dimension to daily journalism.

However, anyone who hopes to master traditional storytelling must remember that its rules are even more specific than the rules for writing journalistic reports.

True literary-style stories almost always focus on a protagonist, usually a human being who causes the action to happen. The protagonist invariably faces an antagonist -- an enemy, a competitor or a force of nature -- that creates a conflict, a challenge or a complication. That creates the dramatic tension that grabs reader interest and propels the story forward. …

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