Wednesdays with Words – April 9, 2014

I’m slowly continuing to savor Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  Since it is a library book and I can’t write in it, there are numerous post-it notes sticking out of the pages, marking the multiple passages I want to copy and remember.  This is a book that I may eventually have to buy for myself.

I started the chapter of Narratives this week.  Here are a few good thoughts:

“And then, my notes assembled and indexed more or less, I retired to my office to try to begin to make sense of what I had observed.  I imagine that this moment is much the same for most non-fiction writers.  We sit at desks in our offices, apart from the world, gazing at those notebooks stacked on our tables, hoping there are stories in them but once again unsure.”

“What, after all, is a story? It is not a subject.  A good story many include a great deal of information on any number of topics or issues.  It may blossom with implications.  It may be a way of seeing the world in a grain of sand.  But that grain of sand can’t be just any grain of sand.  A story lives in its particulars, in the individuality of person, place, and time.”

“The most important conflict often happens within a character, or within the narrator.  The story begins with an inscrutable character and ends with a person the author and reader understand better than before, a series of events that yields, however quietly, a dramatic truth.  One might call this kind of story a narrative of revelation.”

“Revelation, someone’s learning something, is what transforms event into story.  Without revelation, a story of high excitement leaves us asking, ‘Is that all?’ Discovering the deeper drama of revelation is a challenge for a nonfiction writer, especially the writer who has happened onto a cliff-hanger story.  And it is an opportunity, also a potential solace, for the writer who has in hand a story that lacks obvious drama but that may contain other important qualities.

For a story to have a chance to live, it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them.  The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff.  A car chase is not required.”



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