Paul Tough made an unusual decision in the first sentence of his story, "A Speck in the Sea," about a man suddenly cast adrift in the ocean. The decision: He revealed that the man survived. Tough explains to Steven Wilmsen why he did that, and how it fundamentally changed his story: "Once it became a story not about whether he survived but how he survived, then there were lots of little dramas to consider within that overarching narrative."
Abeer al-Najjar, the child of a refugee, analyzes a story by Susan Dominus about a 12-year-old Syrian refugee girl named Hana, whose days of manual farm labor are mingled with dreams of home: "This narrative speaks to the universal merit of journalistic works which help us not just be conscious of but cherish other humans. We dive with Dominus into Hana’s physical experience — 'the almonds were stubborn, resisting her fingers' — and into her soul and consciousness."
Maria Popova cites psychologist Jerome Bruner on the cognitive roots of narrative: "A good story and a well-formed argument are different natural kinds. Both can be used as means for convincing another. Yet what they convince of is fundamentally different: arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness. The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof. The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude."
"From the practical to the inspirational, these events offer something for journalists looking to improve their storytelling, no matter the medium or the format," Michael Fitzgerald writes in an introduction to Nieman Storyboard's annual list of conferences focusing on narrative journalism. Included are Boston University's "The Power of Narrative," with Gay Talese and Mary Roach, the Mayborn conference in Texas, and others in various states and three foreign countries.
April Reese interviews Faith Kohler, a law enforcement agent turned filmmaker, about 30 Seconds Away, her study of homelessness. At one point, Kohler explains how she decided to do her narration: "I cringe when I hear the sound of my own voice. I can’t tell you how many tries it took me to get that right in the studio … But I don’t know if it would have been as compelling to the audience or got their attention without [them] knowing this was very personal to me."
Josh Roiland annotates the syllabus for his class, “Literary Journalism in America,” explaining why he has selected each of several dozen articles he assigns: "In many ways, the course is easy to teach because the stories are so compelling that everyone always completes the assigned readings and we have amazing conversations in class. I still get regular messages from former students as they discover new writers or works that remind them of something we read in class."
Twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel used to write for newspapers. Now they're the authors of a successful play about the late Texas columnist Molly Ivins, starring Kathleen Turner among others, and are working on plays about Erma Bombeck and Damon Runyon, Laura Collins-Hughes writes: "Even as playwrights have borrowed techniques from journalism to create such work, journalists have recognized an opportunity to transfer their well-honed skills to a different medium."
Roy Peter Clark discusses a worthy heir to his old Best Newspaper Writing series, a book called The Best American Newspaper Narratives, edited by Mayborn conference director George Getschow, of whom Clark writes: "He places these contemporary narratives in a historical context, tracing the impulse for storytelling in journalism back to the 19th century in the work of Mark Twain, Lafcadio Hearn (whom every storyteller in journalism should read), and Stephen Crane."
Edward Abbey took a job at Arches National Monument in the late 1950s and a decade later produced Desert Solitaire, a meditation on the external and internal landscapes he examined that summer, Maria Popova writes: "Abbey’s writing is both a form of spiritual sustenance and a feat of conservation — for, being human and thus solipsistic, unless we appreciate the value of these experiences to our inner lives, we are rarely moved to honor their sacred value to all life."