(Whether it's called narrative nonfiction, literary nonfiction, long-form journalism, creative nonfiction, or narrative journalism--true stories, well-written and compelling)
· What is narrative nonfiction?
· Conferences on narrative nonfiction/longform journalism
· Reports from conferences
· Story structure and storytelling
· Storytelling resources from the Nieman Foundation
· Why's This So Good?
(Nieman Storyboard on why classic narrative nonfiction stories work)
· Books and articles on the craft of creative and narrative nonfiction
· Good explanations and narrative nonfiction resources
· Outstanding narrative nonfiction books
· Anthologies of short creative nonfiction
· Publications and sites that feature narrative nonfiction
· E-singles short books, aka long-form journalism
· About audio narrative (including digital and radio storytelling)
· Multimedia journalism and storytelling
· Personal storytelling venues
· Online venues for true stories and narrative nonfiction
· The Moth
· Online examples of excellent storytelling
· Other venues for stories told aloud to a live audience
· Paris Review interviews with nonfiction authors
· Excellent online examples of narrative journalism
· Accuracy, honesty, and truth in narrative nonfiction
· Characters in narrative nonfiction
· Writing in first person
What is narrative nonfiction?
Narrative nonfiction goes under many names, including creative nonfiction, literary journalism, and fact-based storytelling.
In short form, it's an alternative to the traditional newspaper pyramid structure (in which, if you lopped off the bottom part of the story, the reader would still have all the key information). With narrative nonfiction you don't present the main point in the first paragraph—compelling narrative keeps the reader reading to find out what happens, and the journey to the epiphany is half the point. Narrative nonfiction--joining good research with compelling, character-driven storytelling--reads like a novel.
"Creative nonfiction" is misleading in that it implies the facts can be made up. You stick to the truth--the storytelling is fact-based--but you adapt some of the features of fiction (creating a narrative persona, setting scenes, presenting interesting characters, creating the look and feel of a setting, telling a story) to the purposes of journalism.
Basically, it's fact-based storytelling that makes people want to keep reading. Forms of creative nonfiction include literary journalism, the memoir, the lyric essay, the prose poem, and the nonfiction short.
The Nieman Narrative Digest (see links below) provides links to many excellent newspaper series that take advantage of the form. Among magazines, you can find excellent examples of narrative nonfiction in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Points of Entry, and River Teeth. After a series of links here you will find a list of classic book-length narrative nonfiction, followed by links to a few exceptionally good short narratives or newspaper series readable online.
Conferences on longform journalism
aka narrative nonfiction aka literary nonfiction
In some cases you read and listen, as if attending the conferences.
• Sharpen your narrative journalism skills in 2021 at these writers’ conferences (Nieman Storyboard, 5-13-21)
---The Power of Narrative (March 2021) See Reports on talks.
---Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference (Texas, and virtual, October 2021) I mention here only two of the many conferences listed. Read the sites brief descriptions of (and links to) these conferences: Power of Storytelling, True Stories Conference, and "niche conferences": Association of Health Care Journalists, American Society of Journalists and Authors, BIO Conference, Education Writers Association, International Association for Literary Journalism Studies, Journalism and Women's Symposium, National Association of Science Writers, Poverty Narrative Conference, Society of Environmental Journalists conference, Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference, Granta & Wesleyan Writers Conference, Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers Conference, NonfictioNOW.
• The Mayborn literary nonfiction conference (Grapevine, Texas). Here's one report on it: Gems of wisdom: Start writing, read out loud, and send handwritten notes (Maya Jones, Nieman Storyboard, 8-1-19) Notes from The Mayborn: A first-timer finds comfort and good advice. "Waiting for the right moment or to complete all of our interviews and research before writing can sometimes slow us down, lead to procrastination and cramming words on a page just to meet deadline. Let the words flow freely, and worry about structure later. That’s what drafts are for."
• The Power of Narrative Conference has convened in several places under several names since its founding at Boston University in 1998. For more info see What is this conference about?
• The Power of Narrative: Telling True Stories in Turbulent Times. (Boston University, 2019)
• The Latest in Longform (Nov. 8, 2014 --The Berkeley Narrative Journalism Conference, cosponsored by ASJA Educational Foundation), this new conference brings top editors and writers to Berkeley for a daylong exploration of nonfiction storytelling. Attendance is limited to 75 writers; experience (in any genre) a must. See An intimate new narrative conference, Cali style (Paige Williams, Nieman Storyboard, 6-6-14)
• Vanity Fair’s Bryan Burrough on writing narrative: “people are dying to put down your article” . (Andrea Pitzer's Nieman Storyboard report from Mayborn Conference, 8-6-10). "There’s only one way I know to get people to the end of the story...You have to have some mystery. There has to be a holdback."
• Narrative nonfiction events and conferences–is there something here for you? (Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard, 2-22-10)
• Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference (this link changes often--just google the name of the conference, if this one doesn't work)
• Learning to Listen (Gina Kolata interviews Rita Charon on narrative medicine program at Columbia, NY Times, 12-29-09)
• See also Writers conferences, workshops, and other learning places (a separate page on Writers and Editors)
Reports from conferences
You can find further recorded talks from many of these conferences by doing an online search using the names of the conferences.
Nieman Narrative Conference
• Three “threats” to narrative journalism that New York Times editor Bill Killer is not buying (Beth Macy, 4-27-10, reporting on Keller's talk at Nieman Narrative conference)
• Tips from Nieman Narrative: What Works for Readers, Editors & Sources (Bill Kirtz, Poynter)
• Nieman Narrations: Tips and Tales from Top Storytellers (Bill Kirtz, Poynter, 3-17-08)
• Tips and Tales from Some of the Best in the Business (Bll Kirtz on Nieman 2006, 11-20-06, updated 3-3-11)
Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference(Grapevine, Texas, July)
• As experienced by Sam Eifling and described in I Heard It While in Grapevine (Columbia Journalism Review, 7-28-09)
• Mark Bowden on the value of beginner’s mind. Andrea Pitzer's Nieman Storyboard report from the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War
• Narrative tips for nonfiction writers: more from the 2010 Mayborn Conference (Tom Huang, 7-28-10)
• Colin Harrison and Sam Gwynne on the editor-writer partnership, going deep and the difference between a subject and a story
• Boston University (BUniverse) talks on narrative nonfiction, many of them from the 2012 Narrative Arc conference (videotapes):
• Gay Talese, on hanging around and becoming close to strangers, so they are less strange (among things that worked for him: good manners and appearance, so they become comfortable with you--the son of a tailor, he dressed well), on being in a business that tries to tell the truth, on learning his narrative skills from reading fiction, on shirtboard notations (minute 23, the things he makes notes on), on verifying that what they say is what they mean, on leaving the Times to write for Esquire ("I was a master of the minor character"). "That's what's wonderful about narrative nonficton: you don't have to lie, but you can write deeply about people," but "you have to put in your time." On Frank Sinatra has a cold" (about minute 34 on): Where is the story? What is the storyline? Where is the scene? Where does it begin?
• Jill Abramson's keynote address. Great talk. Early on she talks about Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" being the best profile piece ever, because of Talese's reporting. Again, the importance of outlines (Talese's is shown) and the building of tension in the story, collecting fly-on-the-wall details ("Harlan Ellison's boots") by tracking down Harlan Ellison the next day and questioning him about the fight scene. On the Atavist's app, another indication that the longform article "isn't only alive, it's actually dancing to new music." "You can't do original reporting by scraping the Internet." She talks about venues for longform stories, perfect for electronic devices and immersive, in-depth storytelling you can read or listen to on commutes. "These articles really do change the world"--for example, Alan Schwarz's pieces on the dangers of concussions from football, published while the NFL was till in denial, before they were forced to do something about the consequences. On "B matter," the necessary information that can't come too soon or too late in a story. On posting videos alongside longform stories.
• 300 Little Words: How to Write Narrative Short and Good (Roy Peter Clark's talk, which starts at about minute 9 or 10)
• What It Takes: Getting Stories Told in the New World of Narrative Nonfiction (panelists Ken Auletta, Jill Abramson, Hampton Sides, Amanda Urban, and John Stauffer discuss what it takes to be a long-form narrative nonfiction writer in today’s fast-evolving technological world)
• Clearing Space for the Agenda: Setting Narrative in Digital Journalism (Dean Sparkman)
• Jill Abramson: The Power of Narrative
• The Moth & Friends: The Rise of Stories Out Loud (Jay Allison, independent broadcast journalist, curator and producer of The Moth Radio Hour)
• Beyond the "Like" Button: Digitally Addictive Storytelling and the Brain (Amy O’Leary, a news editor and multimedia producer for The New York Times)
• Reaching New Audiences with Digital Devices (Jill Abramson, Managing Editor for the New York Times)
The Power of Narrative: The Rebirth of Storytelling (about storytelling in all kinds of media, on all kinds of platforms--held at Boston University). Cousin of the now-suspended Nieman Narrative Nonfiction conference. Typically held in April. Here's one participant's reports: 10 Highlights from #BUNarrative (Susan Johnston, The Urban Muse, 4-10-13). Susan also posted:
Star-Trib’s Laurie Hertzel at #BUNarrative: “Write with a camera angle” (on E-byline's The News Hook, 4-9-13)
• And here's a story about one keynote talk at the conference (also with video: Dean Starkman on the Confidence Game , in which he emphasizes that story is not everything; in the story about Enron, for example, journalists should have been thinking more about the numbers. Plus a bit about Barney Frank asking why the press has become so negative and adversarial. That's not productive. It should be more thoughtful.
Power of Narrative Conference 2013
Tips from Power of Narrative Conference 2013, in Boston
• Star-Trib’s Laurie Hertzel at #BUNarrative: “Write with a camera angle”
• 10 Highlights from #BUNarrative (Susan Johnston, The Urban Muse, 4-10-13).
• Avoiding ‘story killers,’ finding genius moves with NYT’s O’Leary at #BUNarrative (Susan Johnston, The News Hook, E-byline, 4-9-13)
More reports and stories from various conferences
• Mary Karr on truth: “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right” (Mary Karr at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, 2010, as posted on Nieman Storyboard)
• Narrative tips for nonfiction writers: more from the 2010 Mayborn Conference (Tom Huang, Nieman Storyboard, 7-28-10)
• From research to story. On Nieman Storyboard, Andrea Pitzer presents excerpts from presentations at the BIO (biographers) conference 2011 by Anne Conover Heller (author of Ayn Rand and the World She Made), John Aloysius Farrell (author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned), and Jane Leavy (author of biographies of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle). The final quote sent me (clearly square) to Wikipedia.
• The future of long-form narrative by Gerry Marzorati, the NY Times Magazine editor's keynote address at the 2009 CASE Editors' Forum
• Gary Smith on intimacy and connecting with subjects (“Any uneasiness you bring is going to cost you dearly," says the writer from Sports Illustrated). Andrea Pitzer, for Nieman Storyboard, reporting on the Mayborn Conference.
• Helpful tips from a Harvard writers conference (Livia Blackburn's blog, A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing)
• The Storytellers’ Summit blog . You can watch videos of great talks from this conference held at the University of Florida in 2010: Roy Peter Clark, Andrea Billups, David Finkel, Ellis Amburn, Lane DeGregory, Keith Sykes & Tom Corcoran, Liz Balmaseda & Fabiola Santiago, Tom French, and three biographers: John Capouya, William McKeen & Ellis Amburn.
• “The Girl in the Window” and Other True Tales: An Anthology with Tips for Finding, Reporting, and Writing Nonfiction Narratives by Lane DeGregory. A captivating collection of true stories, as reported and written by a Pulitzer-winning master of narrative nonfiction. Delicious reading, with sidebars in the margins offering tips on how to pull of this wonderful journalism specialty. Highly readable stories that make you want to keep reading.
Characters in narrative nonfiction
• Building Character: A Checklist by Jack Hart (Nieman Storyboard, 10-15-04)
• Building Character: What the Fiction Writers Say (Jack Hart, Nieman Storyboard, 1998)
• Building Character in Three Dimensions (Jack Hart, Nieman Storyboard, 1998)
• Creative Nonfiction: Write Truth with Style (Susan Orleans excellent online workshop, Skillshare, free so far as I can tell)
• Literary License: Defending Joseph Mitchell's composite characters. (Meghan O'Rourke, Slate, 7-29-03)
• Character . Part 3 of Adam Hochschild's four-part series on writing historical narratives, Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Nieman Storyboard, based on a lecture Feb. 2011 at Vanderbilt University).
• "Like a novel, narrative nonfiction imposes structure, theme and subtext to events, place and character. Unlike novelists, authors of narrative nonfiction must live with the fact that real people and real facts seldom conform very tidily to these conventions. Reality is messy, and sometimes you have to put up with unsatisfying turns to the story." ~ Edward Humes (www.edwardhumes.com)
• Exploring Characters in Narrative Nonfiction (YouTube video) Isabel Wilkerson 'auditioned' over 1,200 people in order to find the three characters that ultimately shaped her award-winning book, "The Warmth of Other Suns" (2010).
• Jack Hart on “Storycraft” and narrative nonfiction as an American literary form (Nieman Storyboard). Hart responds to the question "A lot of the best narratives have sympathetic but often deeply flawed protagonists. Do you have suggestions on how to keep it real while maintaining the reader’s sympathy for the protagonist?"
• Debbie Cenziper on the reporting-writing partnership (Andre Salkin, Nieman Storyboard, report from Power of Narrative conference at Boston University, 2022) After more than 20 years as an investigative reporter, longform nonfiction give her the space and challenge to paint detailed scenes and to “turn sources into characters.” She didn’t stop at what happened, but asked sources how they felt when those things happened. “I remember asking for little details,” she added. “Color, description, silly details about the weather – not just if it was hot or cold, but what they were wearing. Those details allow your characters to come alive for your readers.” Beyond colorful detail and compelling characters, you have to “give the story a face.” Reporting is important to provide both accuracy and fairness.
• Three R’s of Narrative Nonfiction (Lee Gutkind, Opinionator, NY Times, 12-17-12) "In the end, thorough research and real world exploration followed by fact-checking review shapes and sharpens the story, ensures writer credibility and allows for fair and equitable treatment of the characters involved. And by carefully following the three R process, writers of nonfiction will be prepared to answer the inevitable question: 'How do you know?'"
Writing in first personFirst person narration
• Toward the end of a long interview with Terry Gross about his novel about Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, Moehringer talks at some length about his collaboration with Agassi on Open. For example: It "wasn't very different from writing my own memoir. When you're writing a memoir the trick, I think, is to treat yourself as a character — to distance yourself from yourself. You write about yourself in the first person, but you think about yourself in the third person. That's the only way you can gain any perspective, any clarity, and keep the dogs of narcissism at bay. And then when you're writing someone else's memoir, you do just the opposite. You try and inhabit their skin, and even though you're thinking third person, you're writing first person, so the processes are mirror images of each other, but they seem very simpatico."
• Getting Personal: When and How to Write Yourself into Your Story (Adela Wu, The Open Notebook, 5-10-22, written for an audience of science writers) "One of the most powerful reasons for reporters to choose to make themselves characters in their own stories is because doing so enables them to serve as a proxy for readers....Achieving a successful balance between scientific and personal material requires critical evaluation of what information is necessary to achieve your writing's purpose....In some cases, personal details may come across as jarring, gratuitous, or distracting." An example of doing it right: I Canceled My Birthday Party Because of Omicron (Ed Yong, The Atlantic, 12-17-21) Yong's excellent pieces about Covid are typically in third person.
• The interviewee's right to "edit" a transcript or story (Pat McNees, Writers and Editors blog) Journalists are discouraged from sharing interview transcripts or drafts of what they’ve written with the people they've interviewed, on the principle that the journalist's duty is to report the truth, without "prior restraint" (censorship)...[One] exception is an “as told to” or first-person piece in which the interviewee is also the author, so to speak. Then, it is not uncommon for the interviewee to read the piece. Sometimes there may also be a legal reason for letting interviewees approve their quotes—for example, if you are writing a missing-person piece and family members are saying things about “whodunit” and they and you don’t want to be sued.
• Radio Diaries First-person diaries, sound portraits, and hidden chapters of history from Peabody Award-winning producer Joe Richman and the Radio Diaries team. From teenagers to octogenarians, prisoners to prison guards, bra saleswomen to gospel preachers.
• First Person Rocks! Here’s what you need to know about the rules… (Melodie Campbell, Writing Cooperative)....and when to break them. "First person has huge limitations for the writer: the person telling the story must be in every scene....If your story is in first person, you can’t be switching to another character’s viewpoint. Ever."
• Thinking about first person (Patricia C. Wrede) "Like every other viewpoint, first-person has both strengths and weaknesses. There are some beginner mistakes that are nearly impossible to make in first person; there are others that are an order of magnitude easier. The trick is in knowing what they are and in knowing whether your particular writing strengths and weaknesses are complimented or reinforced by the natural strengths and weaknesses of the viewpoint....
• First Person Rocks! Here’s what you need to know about the rules…and when to break them. (Melodie Campbell, Writers Cooperative, 2-20-18) "I *become* the protagonist when reading or writing first person. Studies confirm this. Readers become more involved in the story and protagonist when reading first person. But first person has huge limitations for the writer: the person telling the story must be in every scene. You can’t be switching to another character’s viewpoint. Ever.
• The dangers of first-person narrative (Stuart Evers,The Guardian, 5-13-08) Siri Hustvedt's latest novel illustrates just how hard it is to create a convincing first-person narrator.
• First Person Plural (a reading series in Harlem, New York). This Q&A with Andrew Chee. See also In ‘How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays,’ Alexander Chee pens powerfully, lyrically (Joan Silverman, Press-Herald) "Chee, a gay, half-white, half-Korean author and teacher, has been wrestling with these disparate identities for most of his life. This book is a revolving mirror, of sorts, as the author tries on different selves."
• First-person narrative (Wikipedia entry) "First-person narratives can appear in several forms; interior monologue, as in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground; dramatic monologue, also in Albert Camus' The Fall; or explicitly, as Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Other forms include temporary first-person narration as a story within a story, wherein a narrator or character observing the telling of a story by another is reproduced in full, temporarily, and without interruption shifting narration to the speaker. The first-person narrator can also be the focal character." A helpful entry.
• How to Recognize and Create an Unreliable Narrator( Ginny Wiehardt, The Balance, 5-30-19) Trust issues with the narrator character.
• The Last Word; We the Characters (Laura Miller, NY Times, 4-18-04) William Faulkner's short story ''A Rose for Emily'' is the best-known example. "Modern readers find collective first-person narrators unsettling; the contemporary mind keeps searching for the familiarity of an individual point of view, since it seems impossible that a group could think and feel, let alone act, as one. The ancient Greeks believed otherwise." Miller "points to a provocative contrast between the ways writers have used the first-person plural: for male writers, the collective narrator is most often on the outside trying to peep in -- usually at a woman or women -- but female writers speak from the center of the mystery."
• What Is First Person Point of View in Writing? How to Write in First Person Narrative Voice With Examples (MasterClass)
• The Curse of First-Person Narration (Beth Hill, The Editor's Blog) "A pitfall to first-person narration is the writer's tendency both to write exposition and to summarize rather than write full scenes. Rather than being giving a series of scenes connected by transitions of narrative summary, readers are faced with blocks of exposition peppered with mini-scenes. The balance is way off."
Accuracy, honesty, and truth in narrative nonfictionWho do we trust?
• Can narrative journalism overcome the political divide? (Danny Funt, Chava Gourarie, and Jack Murtha, series In Brands We Trust?, Columbia Journalism Review, 6-30-16) Traditional magazines no longer have a monopoly over longform journalism. With so many players in the game, how do readers decide which stories to trust? We conducted a study to find out."We’re all familiar with suspension of disbelief in fiction. For the duration of a movie or a book chapter, we agree to live in a world where we’ve colonized space, dogs can talk, or a boy with Muggle blood can save the world. Our study suggests that this same principle extends to longform nonfiction stories that bend the rules, not of the physical world, but of our political worldviews. If it’s gripping enough, we’re willing to suspend judgement, if only for a little while."
• Why we trust, and why that’s changing online (In Brands We Trust? series,Danny Funt, Chava Gourarie, and Jack Murtha, CJR, 6-17-16) "An experiment initiated by the George T. Delacorte Center and carried out by CJR’s three Delacorte fellows sought to learn how much weight readers give to a publication’s brand when evaluating a story’s credibility. The term “magazine” today is less descriptive of a particular medium than of an intimate and immersive relationship between a publication and its audience. When people read individual articles online without first encountering a print cover or Web homepage—or making a purchase—it’s worth exploring to what extent that sort of relationship survives....When readers spent longer on a story, brands mattered less....Brands are essential to journalism in part because evidence suggests that consumers are inept judges of quality....News consumers are investing their time, if not their money, and they reward an efficient experience with more of their attention....Online, design is key to generating reader trust...“People typically process web information in superficial ways,” they concluded, adding that “using peripheral cues is the rule of web use, not the exception.”...News sites have realized the diminishing significance of their homepages; BuzzFeed’s enormous success has come from embracing “distributed publishing,” using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to go straight to its audience...'Because The New Yorker brand hinges on high-quality journalism, the magazine has been shielded from “many of the money-generating schemes that other outlets have, whether enthusiastically or reluctantly, embraced,” The New York Observer noted earlier this year. We wondered how much The New Yorker’s cachet raises our estimation of a piece, apart from the copy’s merits.' An interesting discussion in a scary time for journalism.
• The New Yorker, BuzzFeed, and the push for digital credibility (Danny Funt, Chava Gourarie, and Jack Murtha, CJR, 6-27-16) "This is an industry that’s very much based on trust in publications and in individual journalists, and that trust is very fragile. You have to keep earning it and re-earning it.” "Although more of our subjects trusted The New Yorker than BuzzFeed, the digital native wasn’t far behind. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from our study isn’t that readers judged The New Yorker more credible, but that a 10-year-old website that began filling out its investigative unit less than three years ago came close to matching the clout of a 91-year-old magazine of indisputable prominence." "Groups like The Trust Project at Santa Clara University are researching how news outlets can use story-level cues, such as highlighting the author’s credentials and sources, or how intensely an article was fact-checked, to boost their credibility among digital readers."
• What we’re following: truthiness in narrative.
• Truth in Nonfiction: A Testimonial (Dylan Nice, Rumpus Room, 7-3-12)
• Gay Talese and the Problem With New Journalism New Journalism has long been bedeviled by the very problem that has now entangled Talese: the tendency for fact and fiction to merge when novelistic narrative methods are applied to reporting. Since 1980, he’s been researching, off and on, the life of Gerald Foos, a Colorado hotel owner who claims to have spied on his guests for decades. Talese’s book on Foos, based on interviews with the hotelier and his diaries. But it turns out that Foos lied to Talese about basic parts of his story.
• What's the Story: The Creative Nonfiction Police? (Lee Gutkind, Creative Nonfiction, Issue 25, 2004) "Does this sound fair, to only present one side of a complicated story? Traditional journalists might not think so. But ...[the other writers appearing in this collection] are not in any way attempting to achieve balance or objectivity. This is a significant way in which creative nonfiction differs from journalism. Subjectivity is not required in creative nonfiction, but specific, personal points of view, based on fact and conjecture, are definitely encouraged."
• Errol Morris v. Janet Malcolm (Emily Bazelon, Slate, 9-13-12). The documentary filmmaker takes on the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case. In his new book A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, Morris addresses flaws in two well-publicized books: Fatal Vision by Joe McGinnis and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm. Error writes of “Two journalists—one who betrays MacDonald by twisting the facts and another who tells him facts don’t make a difference.” What a good book-group or narrative nonfiction discussion topic. MacDonald is still in prison and someone somewhere clearly screwed up.
• The Lifespan of a Fact, book by John D'Agata, author, and Jim Fingal, fact checker. A meditation on the relationship between “truth” and “accuracy” and a penetrating conversation about whether it is appropriate for a writer to substitute one for the other.
• Mary Karr on truth: “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right” (Mary Karr at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, 2010, as posted on Nieman Storyboard)
• The Line Between Fact and Fiction (Roy Peter Clark, Nieman Storyboard, 9-7-04). Among principles discussed: Do not add. Do not deceive. Be unobtrusive. Stories should not only be true, they should ring true. Check it out or leave it out. And ‘The Line Between Fact and Fiction’ revisited (Poynter, 1-8-16)
• Lawrence Wechsler on the Fiction of Nonfiction (transcript, On the Media, 12-24-12). On composites, not using tape recorders, and other details of media life.
• As Sedaris walks line between real and ‘realish,’ NPR is left in the middle (Paul Farhi, Washington Post 5-13-12)
• 460: Retracted. Public radio's This American Life retracts Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory (Mike Daisey's story about visiting Foxconn, which makes iPads and other products for Apple in China), after Marketplace's China correspondent Rob Schmitz discovers fabrications.
• 4 important truths about Mike Daisey’s lies & the way ‘This American Life’ told them (Craig Silverman, Poynter, 3-19-12). Google Daisey, Glass, and This American Life and you can find dozens of analyses of this story and issue)
• In the Details: 'The Lifespan of a Fact'by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal ( Jennifer B. MacDonald, NYTBR, 2-21-12)
• The Fact-Checker Versus the Fabulist (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, NY Times Magazine 2-21-12). More about D'Agata and Fingal.
• Codes of ethics of various journalism organizations
This group of links merely skims the surface on this topic, but the principles should be clear.
"An accurate statement is factually correct; a true statement, besides being accurate, should mean what it seems to mean." ~ Barbara Walraff (Copy Editor, Feb-March 2005)
• The Art of Listening (Henning Mankell, NY Times Sunday Book Review, 12-10-11, on what we can learn from the African storytelling tradition. One story ends: "“That’s not a good way to die — before you’ve told the end of your story.”
The Art of Nonfiction: Paris Review Interviews
• Joan Didion, The Art of Nonfiction No. 1 (interviewed by Hilton Als)
• Gay Talese, The Art of Nonfiction No. 2 (interviewed by Katie Roiphe)
• John McPhee, The Art of Nonfiction No. 3 (interviewed by Peter Hessler)
• Janet Malcolm, The Art of Nonfiction No. 4 (interviewed by Katie Roiphe)
• Emmanuel Carrère, The Art of Nonfiction No. 5 (interviewed by Susannah Hunnewell)
• Paris Review "Writers at Work" Interviews (selections from 1953 on, a gift to the world, and with a single click you can view a manuscript page with the writer's edits)
• Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews (one volume of many, in an excellent series)
The "Basic" Plots in Literature (IPL)
Breaking into Creative Nonfiction, Part 1: The Basics (Chip Scanlan, Poynter Online 4-17-03); Part 2, Getting that First Acceptance, Assignment
Bruce Dobler's Creative Nonfiction Compendium (with reading list and notes, thanks to the Wayback Machine!)
Byliner, stories about and reactions to:
• Byliner: The Pandora of Nonfiction Reading Adam Clark Estes (The Atlantic, 6-21-11). In this "pro" article, Estes calls Byliner "a discovery engine for the best long form nonfiction writing... Imagine an aggregator like Arts & Letters Daily meets Google News and has a beautifully designed baby."
• Byliner Sure Is Slick, But Is It Also Stealing? Adam Clark Estes (The Atlantic, 6-22-11)
• Byliner CEO excited about ‘opportunity to discover some great writers’ (Mallary Jean Tenore, Poynter Online, 6-21-11) "When deciding whether to start another book or write magazine stories, [CEO and founder John Tayman] began exploring the space between magazines and books."
• From Wife-Swapping to Spelunking to Princess Di: Byliner Is What It Promised To Be--"the most viable marriage yet between widespread deep-reading and the Internet browser." (Michael Humphrey, Forbes 7-1-11).
• The Tent Pole and the Writer (Cassandra Kircher, Essay Daily, 5-13-19) "Early on in my teaching and writing life, I’d accepted that minor characters in creative nonfiction sometimes have to go. 'Killed off[ is a term I know I’ve used to get students’ attention."
• Byliner Rolls The Dice On Long-Form (Bill Barol, Forbes.com 6-23-11). "It isn’t limiting itself to curation and aggregation...there are Byliner Originals in ebook form..." "Read-later capability is limited at the moment to the ReadItLater service..."
• Byliner aims for the space between books and magazines (Steve Meyers, Poynter 4-20-11)
Can We Humanize the Web? New sites aim for story-telling that connects us. (Wall Street Journal, Marvels, 12-31-11)
CBC Dispatches, Part 1: Sounding out your story. Nieman Storyboard features best tips from the audio storytelling handbook of the Canadian Broadcasting Company's Dispatches weekly radio show of documentaries, essays, interviews and reports from around the world. Followed by (Part 2: Composing with sound and Part 3: Writing for radio.
Good explanations and narrative nonfiction resources
■ Chinua Achebe on the value of storytelling:
"The sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards.
Of these three though, who takes the eagle's feather, one would ask.
I will say the story teller.
Only the story can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives the sound of the war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence.
The story is our escort; without it we are blind."
~ from “The Anthills of the Savannah”
■ Chris Jones on structuring a mystery, about two stories he wrote for Esquire: The End of Mystery (what happens when a helicopter goes down and the men on the ground try to unscramble the mystery of why) and The Things That Carried Him (the true story behind one soldier's last trip home)
■ Longform A guide to many, many narrative nonfiction pieces, indexed by broad topic (e.g., Arts, Crime, Movies & TV), by publication, by writer, and by tag (e.g., #Me Too)
■The Truth About Fiction vs. Nonfiction (Aminatta Forna, Freeman's Channel, LitHub) “Where once most first person nonfiction was generally confined to travel writing, narrative journalism and essays, the late 20th century has seen a huge explosion in personal memoir.”
"Don DeLillo once quipped that a fiction writer starts with meaning and manufactures events to represent it; the writer of creative nonfiction starts with events, then derives meaning from them. Gillian Slovo, both a novelist and memoirist, once told me that with nonfiction you always know what your story is, with fiction that isn’t necessarily the case. I think there is truth in both statements. It’s easy to lose sight of your story, meaning the deeper truth you are reaching for in fiction, the more it can be a slippery process. When it comes to nonfiction I discard or store numbers of stories, sometimes because I can’t think of the right way to tell them, but more often because although I know the story in narrative terms, I have not yet arrived at its meaning."
■ Gangrey: The Podcast Discussing the best in narrative journalism with the reporters who write it.
■ Creating Nonfiction by Rachel Toor (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12-3-07) on what to call this "new" genre
■Creating Scenes: The Yellow Test (Lee Gutkind, The Opinionator, NY Times 8-22-12). "Readers remember information longer — and are more likely to be persuaded by ideas and opinions — when it’s presented to them in scenes. This is why so many TV commercials are narrative."
■ Creative Nonfiction (the magazine, true stories well told--"simply great essays by talented writers," wrote Library Journal). Dinty W. Moore provides an interesting history of the terms probable origins in Issue #56: A Genre by Any Other Name? The Story Behind "Creative Nonfiction"
■ Creative Nonfiction: resources for teachers and students. (Leslie Whidden, Scoop.it!)
■ Creative nonfiction (Wikipedia entry and reading list)
■ Creative Nonfiction CollectiveCreative vs. narrative vs. literary nonfiction (Caroline Kettlewell, on her narrative nonfiction blog). Also, check out Kettlewell on What is the personal essay? and What is this thing called nonfiction (about the differences between fiction and nonfiction).
■ Social (and other) justice learning events (Justice Clearinghouse) Useful-sounding workshops, from "Cyberthreat Landscape Update" to "Ambiguous Loss: The impact of missing persons on victims, advocates and judicial system personne"; from "The New Normal - Recovering from an Intruder Response Incident" to "DNA Basics: Understanding DNA Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions."
■ “Gay Talese diagnoses Frank Sinatra (Maria Henson, Why’s this so good?” No. 39: Nieman Storyboard, 4-24-12)
■ Getting the story: Luke Dittrich and the tornado (Paige Williams, Nieman Storyboard, 4-13-12)
■ Download the Universe (founded by Carl Zimmer, this science e-book review site will lead you to what's hot in the science e-book universe, as reviewed by good science writers)
■ 11 Ways Remarkable Storytellers Create New Worlds (Michael Simmons, Time, 6-10-15) Excellent tips and good examples.
■ The end of the line for the Lone Ranger? (A how-to guide for narrative collaboration, Beth Macy, Nieman Storyboard 11-24-09)
Esquire's 70 Greatest Sentences. Seventy lines that sparkle, invoke, provoke, or are just damn enjoyable to read. Both fiction and nonfiction, including: "Twenty-four years later, on Wednesday, August 28, at nine-thirty o'clock, in full view of ten million people, the little door in William F. Buckley Jr.'s forehead suddenly opened and out sprang that wild cuckoo which I had always known was there but had wanted so much for others, preferably millions of others, to get a good look at."
--Gore Vidal, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley Jr.," 1969
Essays on Craft (Nieman Storyboard, into which the former Nieman Narrative Digest merged -- both narrative sites of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard)
From Plot to Narrative by Elizabeth Ellis, a step-by-step process for creating and enhancing stories
How comics can bring new audiences to narrative nonfiction (Erin Polgreen, Nieman Reports, 6-17-14) "Mirk instinctively understood what comic book formats can do for journalism. The form makes heady topics intimate and relevant. Issues that are far away become more personal to the reader. In a world of information overload, beautifully crafted, hand-illustrated comics provide clarity and emotional resonance." See the story The Secret Life of Gitmo’s Women by Sarah Mirk & Lucy Bellwood (Narratively, 2-12-14) Two female Navy veterans pull back the curtain on Guantanamo Bay, where the war on terror meets a military culture rife with harassment and sexual assault.
How many interviews? (Jeanne Erdmann, Ask TON, TheOPENNotebook, 7-16-13)
How Stories Deceive (Maria Konikova, New Yorker, 12-29-15). A young woman fooled the governments of three countries. What does her con reveal about how we see the world? "In his book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, Jerome Bruner, a central figure in the cognitive revolution in psychology, proposes that we can frame experience in two ways: propositional and narrative. Propositional thought hinges on logic and formality. Narrative thought is the reverse. It’s concrete, imagistic, personally convincing, and emotional. And it’s strong."
I am not a story (Galen Strawson, Aeon, 9-3-15) Some find it comforting to think of life as a story. Others find that absurd. So are you a Narrative or a non-Narrative? The dangerous idea that life is a story.
Information vs. Wisdom and How the Novel and the News Killed Storytelling (Walter Benjamin on) (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) Walter Benjamin: "Every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it… The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the events is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.... The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time."
Katherine Boo’s 15 rules for narrative nonfiction (Katia Savchuk reporting from Mayborn Conference for Storytellers, 7-25-17) This is a woman who spent three years in Mumbai, learning about the people she writes so beautifully about in Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Here's Rule 9: I try never to forget that my “subjects” are really my co-investigators. “They are experiencing more viscerally than we ever will the barriers in their lives,” Boo said. When she was reporting in Annawadi, she let children there use her camera to record whatever they wanted. Many of them decided to film a lake of sewage that bordered the slum, which helped Boo realize that the lake itself could be a character that revealed the area’s public health dangers.
Implied authors. Krugman, Krauthammer and Their Implied Authors (Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg, 12-10-12). "Implied authors may or may not be like their real-world counterparts. A novelist may be cruel and vicious to his family and friends, but in his novels, his implied author may be kind and gentle. A poet who is a loving wife and mother may produce poetry whose implied author is venomous and full of rage." A fascinating explanation of how things work in fiction and narrative nonfiction. But he also applies it to political discussions: "...the characteristics of implied authors tend to be contagious. In particular, contempt and suspicion, and a fundamental lack of generosity, spread like wildfire. "
Ira Glass of This American Life, the popular show on WBEZ public radio, gives an interview on Storytelling, 8-18-09, in four parts. Click here for Part 1 (the anecdote and the moment of reflection as the two building blocks of a radio story); Part 2 (the amount of time it takes to find a good story and the importance of being tough and killing the boring parts; Part 3 (how much time you have to put in to get to the point where your skills match your good taste), and Part 4 (being yourself and being a good listener, because what's interesting is the way you interact with people, not your take on things). Listen to stories from the archive or on the radio (find your local stations).
Edward Humes on narrative nonfiction
How to organize research on a heavily researched subject (Jean Strouse, in an interview for Bookreporter.com--scroll down for that Q&A)
The human heart of the matter. Novelist Geoff Dyer argues that recent reportage about military conflict trumps fiction in its characterisation, observation and narrative drive (The Guardian 6-12-10). He compares two new books, David Finkel's The Good Soldiers and Sebastian Junger's War to a shelf of other first-rate books on the subject: Steve Coll's Ghost Wars; Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower; George Packer's The Assassins' Gate; Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City; and Dexter Filkins's The Forever War.
Internet Classics Archive
Interview with Jack Hitt (Part 1) and Part 2, by Conor Firedersdorf (and if your writing has been a struggle, Part 2, on the writing process, will make you feel better, or smile). See also
Jack Hart on “Storycraft” and narrative nonfiction as an American literary form (Nieman Storyboard 10-20-11)
Kindle Single e-books extend potential for long-form journalists . New Kindle Single e-books from The New York Times and ProPublica "highlight the potential for journalists to find new audiences, and possibly new revenue, for long-form reporting."Amazon officially unveils new Kindle Singles.
Lee Gutkind, The Voice of Creative Nonfiction, blog
The Line Between Fact and Fiction (Roy Peter Clark, Nieman Storyboard, 9-7-04)
Lines in the Mud: Exploring Creative Non-Fiction (Aaron Pope)
Lost and found: How great nonfiction writers discover great ideas (Brendan Borrell, The OPENNotebook, 12-13-11)
Mary Karr on truth. Andrea Pitzer's Nieman Storyboard report from Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference: “the least of my problems as a memoirist, as a writer, is getting my facts right.”
The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction, Sue William Silverman's essay on the subgenres of (biography, autobiography, immersion essay, memoir, personal essay, meditative essay, lyric essay, and various mixtures of same) and her excellent and interestingly organized reading list of, contemporary creative nonfiction
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Part 1) Adam Hochschild's four-part series on storytelling and historical narratives, based on a talk given at Vanderbilt University in February 2011 (Nieman Storyboard 3-24-11). Part 1 is a call to bridge the divide between academic writing and narratives intended for the general public. Part 2: Setting addresses the importance of setting and scene in storytelling. And Part 3: Character examines the role of characters in historical writing. Part 4 is about plot. How do you unfold a story, and how do you unfold it in a way that is going to hold the reader’s attention?
Menand, Louis. Excellent New Yorker essay, The Historical Romance: Edmund Wilson's Adventures with Communism ( 3-24-03), in which Menand writes: "Intuitive knowledge—the sense of what life was like when we were not there to experience it—is precisely the knowledge we seek. It is the true positive of historical work."
The Miami Herald: a case study in the rise of literary journalism at newspapers (Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard 5-27-10)
Mining the Literary Middle Ground (Hernán Iglesias Illa, Publishing Perspectives, 8-5-11).Online start-ups Byliner and The Atavist have established a market for stories too long for magazines and too short for books (between 5,000 word magazine articles and 100,000 words books. Much of their income is from apps, not content.
The Moth (live storytelling events in New York City)
Narrative (Richard Gilbert's blog, now Draft No. 4)
Narrative and Healing (The Physician as Patient, LitSite, Alaska)
The Narrative in the Neurons (Wray Herbert, We're Only Human blog, 7-14-09)
National Book Award winner T.J. Stiles on telling good stories and asking big questions (Nieman Storyboard)
Nonfiction Page Turners (transcript of Authors Guild Foundation symposium, with panelists Melissa Fay Greene, Nick Taylor, Sebastian Junger, Dava Sobel, Hampton Sides)
News Feature v. Narrative: What’s the Difference? (Rebecca Allen, Nieman Storyboard, 1-9-06). Excellent explanation and examples.
Nonfiction scene-building secrets from the pros (Ryan G. Van Cleave, The Writer, 1-19-17)
Nonny de la Peña on “Gone Gitmo,” Stroome and the future of interactive storytelling Ernesto Pirego (Nieman Storyboard 1-30-11) interviews one of the co-founders of Stroome.com, a community that allows online collaborative remixing of visual journalism
Notable writers talk about their craft (Literary Nonfiction, University of Oregon). Interviews with authors of literary nonfiction, including Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Mary Roach, Ted Conover, Naka Nathaniel, Melissa Fay Greene, Mark Bowden, Susan Faludi, Anne Fadiman, Tracy Kidder, Gretel Ehrlich, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Humes, Charles R. Cross, Adam Hochschild.
Not Always Bingo. Ruth Franklin (The New Republic, 4-6-11) reviews Janet Malcolm's new book,Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial . "Malcolm eschews the pretense of certainty that most journalists adopt; instead, her process of probing the ambiguities, of investigating exactly how much she knows and does not know, becomes crucial to her narratives. 'The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties,' she wrote in Two Lives, her recent book about Gertrude Stein’s life and work. 'Almost everything we know we know incompletely at best.'"
Out of Eden Walk (a journey through time, journalist Paul Salopek's planned seven-year "slow journalism" trek, "a solo 21,000-mile walk that will trace the path of human migration from Africa, through the Middle East and Asia, across the Bering Sea to North America, and down the western coast of the Americas to the tip of South America." See Editor & Publisher account,
Journalist Embarks on 7-Year Walk (Nu Yang, 2-4-13). Funded by the National Geographic Society and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He "will carry as little as possible in his backpack, including notebooks, writing utensils, a camera, and a laptop to file online written, video, and audio dispatches to his editors back home."
The Power and Glory of Sportwriting (Nicholas Dawidoff, NY Times 7-28-12). "An editor at Sports Illustrated once advised me that the art of the work rested in telling people who already know what happened a story so compelling that they forget everything and, at the end, wish they’d been there....to regard sports as a parallel world full of little climaxes and telling details, just waiting for you to make the most of them."
The Power of Story ( Elizabeth Svoboda, Aeon, 1-12-15). "Once upon a time"...how stories change hearts and brains. "New research is lending texture and credence to what generations of storytellers have known in their bones – that books, poems, movies, and real-life stories can affect the way we think and even, by extension, the way we act....the stories we absorb seem to shape our thought processes in much the same way lived experience does."
Program in Narrative Medicine (fortifies clinical practice with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness), College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University
Pulitzer Prize winners from 2011 -- a sampler of narrative winners (Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard 4-19-11)
A Q&A with Michael Mooney on elaborate outlining, “The Legend of Chris Kyle,” and the importance of access (Meagan Flynn, Beyond the New Yorker, 8-14-13). About this piece: The Legend of Chris Kyle (Michael J. Mooney, D Magazine, 3-18-13). The deadliest sniper in U.S. history performed near miracles on the battlefield. Then he had to come home.
Radio shows featuring storytelling
Remembering Tom Wolfe, the master of the long sentence (Roy Peter Clark, Poynter, 5-15-18)
Scanlan, Chip, "The First Peril: Fabrication" (The Legend on the License Revisited, Poynter)
Searching for Gary Smith (Sarah Perry's profile in Mayborn Magazine of the great sportswriter -- who knows how to live in and then write the story)
Slow Journalism. Out of Eden Walk (a journey through time, journalist Paul Salopek's planned seven-year "slow journalism" trek, "a solo 21,000-mile walk that will trace the path of human migration from Africa, through the Middle East and Asia, across the Bering Sea to North America, and down the western coast of the Americas to the tip of South America." See Editor & Publisher account, Journalist Embarks on 7-Year Walk (Nu Yang, 2-4-13). Funded by the National Geographic Society and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He "will carry as little as possible in his backpack, including notebooks, writing utensils, a camera, and a laptop to file online written, video, and audio dispatches to his editors back home."
A sampler of narrative winners from 2011 Pulitzer Prizes (Andrea Pitzer, Nieman Storyboard 4-19-11)
The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains (Leo Widrich, Lifehacker, 12-5-12)
The State of Narrative Nonfiction Writing (the entire Fall 2000 issue of Nieman Reports, with many important articles -- click on topics along left side)
A story asks a question (Bill Harley, Song, Story and Culture blog, 12-11-12)
Story-Based Inquiry: A manual for investigative journalists (free PDF, in English, French, Arabic, or Chinese, from UNESCO)
Storyful, a startup that started filtering videoclips about the turmoil in Egypt, is partnering with YouTube's CitizenTube, YouTube’s news and politics channel, in an experiment in teamwork to "curate" the news knowledgeably. Read Storyful Now: Egypt in Revolt (Nieman Journalism Lab, 2-4-11)
Story, interrupted: why we need new approaches to digital narrative (Pedro Monteiro, Nieman Storyboard 9-8-11). Well-illustrated guide to how narrative may need to adapt on new platforms.
StoryLab (reporters and readers come together to shape stories at the Washington Post)
Stranger than Fiction: The Art of Literary Journalism. William McKeen, Lecture 1, Ancestors--storytelling, gossip, language, ways of preserving sounds as writing,newspapers, journalism, mass literacy, and so on. (Modern Scholar, available as audio downloads from LearnOutLoud.com). Free download of first 35 minutes, $35 for the whole tamale.
Gay Talese, The Art of Nonfiction No. 2 (interviewed about his career by Katie Roiphe, Paris Review, Summer 2009) And do read Talese's piece Frank Sinatra Has a Cold (Esquire, 1965 and reprinted in 2016) One of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism—a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction."
Ten Thoughts for Writing Narrative Nonfiction (Samuel Freedman), sidebar to Writing Seminar Spawns Book Deals (Lu Olkowski, National Public Radio, 2-27-07) Another such story: Freedman's Writing Course Breeds Works of Nonfiction (Jerome Weeks, Books, Dallas Morning News, 10-10-2000) ' "The mission of reporting is not an inquiry into the self," he says, "but an exploration beyond the self." His students, I can attest, develop a camaraderie because they're all doing the same sort of grueling fact-checking and interviewing. They're not off by themselves, waiting for inspiration.' And one on covering the education beat as a journalist: : Mining for Gold: Writer Samuel G. Freedman’s Education. (Grace Rubenstein, Edutopia, 2-2-07) Check out his website.
35 Powerful Photos That Tell A Story (Aquil Akhter, Noupe, 12-5-09)
The 3 Core Elements of Good Storytelling (And Why Your Business Needs Them) (Sean d'Souza, Copyblogger). The sequence, the suspense, and the roller coaster.
Three R’s of Narrative Nonfiction (Lee Gutkind, Opinionator, NY Times, 12-17-12)
Tracing the arc of the narrative (Bill Kirtz, Media Nation, 3-27-12). An excerpt: "Mark Kramer, author of several non-fiction books and editor of Telling True Stories, said that as narrative journalism has developed into a genre, standards have gotten tighter. His often-repeated rules: make nothing up, no 'tweaking' time sequences and be straight with sources."
Transom (an excellent showcase & workshop for New Public Radio). Read How a midcareer print writer mastered the “magic stick” in a 9-week radio Hogwarts (Lee Romney, Nieman Storyboard, 8-8-17) A former Los Angeles Times reporter says the Transom immersive training program changed her (and also made her a stronger narrative writer)
Tricks of the Trade: Narrative Writing (T. DeLene Beeland, reporting on the narration panel at ScienceOnline2013, which she cochaired with David Dobbs).
25 Best True Crime Books as selected by Todd Jensen, whose forensicColleges.net blog provides advice to those considering becoming forensic scientists. See also his 20 Must Read Forensics Books
The Vestigial Tale (Joel Achenbach on Gary Smith and the endangerment of detailed, long-form narrative in the age of Twitter, Washington Post 10-28-09). "In our modern click-and-skim world, there's dwindling time and space for the expertly crafted narrative."
Vixens of Non-fiction Facebook group "for and about women non-fiction writers." See also the group's website. Launched in 2020.
What is narrative, anyway? (Chip Scanlan, part of a series on Poynter Online, 9-29-03)
What it’s really like writing true crime (Part 1, Kevin Sullivan on Digesting Case Files).
What's an essay, what's journalism? (Richard Gilbert, 2-10-12) Quotes Tom Wolfe on the four techniques narrative journalism requires: 1) Scenes: Present the narrative in a series of scenes and use “ordinary historical narration” as little as possible.
2) Dialogue: Quote copious verbal interplay among characters. Dialogue is the easiest prose to read “and the quickest to reveal character.”
3) Details: The careful use of details that reveal “one’s rank or aspirations, everything from dress and furniture to . . . speech, how one talks to the strong, to the weak, to the sophisticated, to the naïve . . .”
4) POV: Point of view that puts the reader “inside the mind of someone other than the writer.”
***When journalists become authors: a few cautionary tips (Peter Ginna, Nieman Storyboard 12-15-11).
• Why Genre Matters (Dinah Lenney, Judith Kitchen, Sven Birkerts, Scott Nadelson, David Biespiel, Los Angeles Review of Books, 8-23-13) Does it matter that the story you are reading is fiction or nonfiction? Why? How? Is there a code of ethics about when to label something true or untrue or partially both?
***Why's This So Good? Links to Nieman Storyboard contributors analyzing what makes some of the best narrative nonfiction read so well.
WriterL (a paid-subscription-only listserv for discussing the craft of narrative nonfiction, run by Jon and Lynn Franklin in the 1990s, a conversation that had a good long run but finally ran out of steam).
Writers on Writing (archive of the New York Times column, in which writers explore literary themes)
Writing Creative Nonfiction That Editors Can’t Refuse (Deborah A. Lott, Los Angeles Editors & Writers Group, 2012)
Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel on creating digital narratives (“you’ve got to fight for every reader”
Your Brain on Story: Why Narratives Win Our Hearts and Minds (Michele Wheldon, Pacific-Standard, 4-22-14) "Our craving and connection to story is so much more than a haphazard preference."
Story structure (narrative arc) and storytelling"The likes of Jean Auel and Tom Clancy sell books by the millions because they understand story structure, a point that’s lost on the critics who savage their syntax.” ―Jon Franklin
“We are,as a species, addicted to story.Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
"A story consists of someone wanting something and having trouble getting it." ~ Douglas Glover
• The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains (Leo Widrich, Lifehacker, 12-5-12) How our brains become more active when we hear stories. We want to relate the story to one of our existing experiences, which is also why metaphors work so well. Using simple language as well as low complexity (fewer adjectives or complicated nouns) is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story.
• The Science Behind the Art of Storytelling (Lani Peterson and Vanessa Boris, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, 11-14-17) It is through story that our minds form and examine our own truths and beliefs, as well as discern how they correlate with the truths and beliefs of others. "Scientists are discovering that chemicals like cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain when we're told a story. Why does that matter? If we are trying to make a point stick, cortisol assists with our formulating memories. Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. When it comes to creating deeper connections with others, oxytocin is associated with empathy, an important element in building, deepening or maintaining good relationships."
• What Makes Storytelling So Effective for Learning? (Vanessa Boris and Lani Peterson, Harvard Business, 12-20-17) Stories build connection, familiarity, and trust, allowing the listener to enter the story where they are, making them more open to learning. It works for all kinds of learners--for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing, or feeling. Stories are far more engaging and motivating and have more influence on readers than information alone does. "The extra benefit for leaders: with a simple personal story [about either success or failure] they’ve conveyed underlying values, offered insight into the evolution of their own experience and knowledge, presented themselves as more approachable, and most likely inspired others to want to know more."
• Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc: Paul Zak at the Future of StoryTelling (Paul Zak, History News Network) "[E]ven the simplest narrative, if it is highly engaging and follows the classic dramatic arc..., can evoke powerful empathic responses associated with" the neurochemicals cortisol and oxytocin, responses that "in turn, can translate readily into concrete action," such as "generous donations to charity." Stories that "fail to follow the dramatic arc of rising action/climax/denouement—no matter how outwardly happy or pleasant those stories may be—elicit little if any emotional or chemical response" and no action. (That's why Al Gore's movie about climate change has so little effect.)
• Ripping up the narrative arc and fumbling your way to structure (2019 Power of Narrative Conference, Nieman Storyboard, 4-3-19) Dave Cullen on how he wove time and perspectives to tell a fuller story of the Columbine High School shootings.
• The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human a book by Jonathan Gottschall
• How to Write the Perfect Story (Kaja Perina, Psychology Today, 3-2-23) Aristotle was interested in stories because he saw them as a form of philosophy. The story-writing guidelines that he came up with have been used for over two thousand years. The ten recommendations listed here are worth reviewing.
• After the fires: A surprising story of a haunted hero and the ashes of regret (Julia Shipley, Annotation Tuesday, Nieman Storyboard, 9-18-18) Lizzie Johnson of The San Francisco Chronicle revisits the headlines to ask about the aftermath. Not all endings are happily-ever-after.
• Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story by Randy Olson. His “And, But, Therefore” template will help you bring the clarification of story to science pieces. Read this story from Inside Higher Ed, which explains how the "and, and, and" approach of Al Gore's movie on climate change made it less effective. See also Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style
• More "Annotation Tuesday" stories(Nieman Storyboard)
• Reporter Tom French and “the three most beautiful words in the English language: What happens next?” (Kari Howard, Nieman Storyboard, 11-16-17) In a remarkable speech at the recent Power of Storytelling gathering in Romania, the Pulitzer-winning writer is true to the conference's name. “I love fiction — if there’s fiction writers in the room, I salute you. But there’s no need for those of us who write nonfiction to invent anything. Life defies categorization, it obliterates ideology; day after day, life exceeds invention.”“At the heart of every issue, there’s a human level that leads to the three most beautiful words in the English language: What happens next?”
• The Book He Wasn't Supposed to Write (Thomas E. Ricks, The Atlantic, 8-22-17) "...after I emailed to him that manuscript, a dual appreciation of Winston Churchill and George Orwell....What I had sent him was exactly the book he had told me not to write. He had warned me, he reminded me, against writing an extended book review that leaned on the weak reed of themes rather than stood on a strong foundation of narrative. I had put the works before the two men, he told me, and that would not do.....I saw that if I followed his suggestions and revamped the book, with a new structure that emphasized biography and told the stories of the two men chronologically, the book would be much better....I dug a new foundation, lining it with solid chronology. I wrote a second note to myself at the top of the manuscript: 'If it is not chronological, why not?' ...That brought the third surprise. Making the text follow the order of events was easier than I had expected—and it made more sense. Anecdotes that I had thought could only go in one place, in a discussion of a theme, actually would fit easily into other places, where they fit in time. In fact, they tended to work better when they appeared in the order in which they had occurred in reality.
• 4 Elements of Narrative That Anyone Can Learn (Alan Gelb on Jane Friedman's blog, 5-29-19) "Narrative is a form that can be learned, like a dance move or a golf swing. I break down narrative into four elements: The Once, The Ordinary vs. the Extraordinary, Conflict and Tension, and The Point. When you understand how these elements act and interact, you’ll have a much stronger sense of how to tell a story."
• The Origins of Storytelling aka The Desirability of Storytellers) (Ed Yong, The Atlantic, 12-5-17) Among Filipino hunter-gatherers, storytelling is valued more than any other skill, and the best storytellers have the most children.
• X because Y, but Z by Will Rogers (Stanford Storytelling Project), which led me to How Sound: The Back Story to Great Radio Storytelling (PRX.org and Transom.org). How Sound's previous iteration was Saltcast.
• The Art of Storytelling Show (archive of podcasts of guest speakers--listen online)
• Videos of TED talks about storytelling (from masters of the form)
• Naming the dog: The art of narrative structure (Christie Aschwanden, The Open Notebook, 9-14-11) "Most stories, French says, fall into one of five basic narrative structures: boy meets girl, there and back (a journey), us versus them, making it (transcending an obstacle), rescuing the princess from the underworld, and the most popular story of all — the Cinderella tale."
• The Shape of Story (Christina Wodtke, ElegantHack, 6-6-15). Wonderful graphic depiction of story structure
• Your Brain on Story (Kendall Haven, posted on YouTube 3-3-15; From the mediaX Seminar, Science Storytelling & the Power of Participation; 28 minutes) The mechanism of story: engagement (has an emotional component--emotionally-laden attention--the gateway to influence); participation, transportation (a precursor of empathy and trust--if audience immerse themselves in the story they treat it as if it were their own), relevance (what does this story mean to me?), and meaning or influence (changing attitudes, beliefs, values, knowledge, behavior). Effective storytelling matches the neural demands of the wiring in our heads (neural story net). You either make sense of incoming information, or you ignore it. Haven explains 8 essential elements of a story that control engagement and feed information to neural story net -- and determine you you influence audience. "From repositioning a big corporate brand, to crafting a persuasive narrative that explains groundbreaking science research, Haven contends that if a story does not engage the audience quickly, it is unlikely to exert influence in the long run."
• The clues to a great story (Andrew Stanton, TED talk, 2-2012). Filmmaker Andrew Stanton ("Toy Story," "WALL-E") shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning. ""Your job as a storyteller is to hide the fact that you're making them work for their meal. We're born problem solvers. We're compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that's what we do in real life. It's this well-organized absence of information that draws us in....Make the audience put things together. Don't give them four, give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience." From the transcript.
• The Psychology of What Makes a Great Story (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) Both a good story and a well-formed argument ... 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." (Among other interesting points made.)
• Hardwired for Story (YouTube, Sarah-Jane "SJ" Murray, video from TEDx Talks, on "neuro-coupling") Stories are everywhere. We watch them at the movies, we read them, we share them. They provide us with opportunities to be vulnerable and share with one another. Yet, some stories have a different quality about them, something that empowers them to transcend time and space so that they live on, throughout our lives and beyond. When you look at PowerPoint only the language part of your brain is firing. When you listen to a person telling a good story, your brain mirrors the brain of the storyteller. When a story is well told, two different chemicals are released, associated with stress and with empathy (that make us care). We are far more likely to remember a story than fact alone, but the stories have to be well-told.
• 5 Day Storytelling (provocative tips in PowerPoint, for a Stanford workshop?)
• Telling science stories…wait, what’s a “story”? (Bora Zivkovic, A Blog Around the Clock, 7-13-11). " In the Inverted Pyramid approach to journalism, the first couple of sentences (the “lede”) provide the next most important information, and so on, with the least important stuff at the end. In many ways, it is the opposite of a narrative – the punch-line goes first, the build-up after. The beauty of the Inverted Pyramid for the writers and editors is that any article can be chopped up and made shorter....You can’t do that with a narrative, where clues can be hidden all along the way, and the grand solution comes close to the end. "
• Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories (video of a witty short lecture) and the same lecture, visually (on visual.ly)
• Narrative Structures (Rebecca Ray, StoryboardThat, ), writes about narrative (or literary) structures (with diagrams): Five Act structure, types of Shakespearean plays, the plot diagram, and the Hero’s Journey, with links to tons more material.''
• Breaking Down The Hero's Journey Plot Structure (Kristen Kieffer, Well-Storied, 8-25-16)
• Heroine's Journey: Rewriting the “hero’s journey” to fit a feminine narrative (Madeline Bodin, Nieman Storyboard, 8-19-20) A writer on a hunt to understand classic story structure ponders politics, movies and her grandmother's life, and searches for a journey of their own.
• Paging Joseph Campbell: Turns out that the fabled Hero’s Journey is a bunch of hooey when you’re writing about Heroines. (Jill Solloway on Maureen Murdock's blog, from Los Angeles Magazine, Oct. 2011) "Ellen [Silverstein] told me that sometimes it looks as if you’re traveling in circles because you’ve come back to the same place. But then you realize you’re spiraling up a mountain. Higher up, better view. That’s the journey I try to write about now."
• How to Structure A Story: The Eight-Point Arc (Ali Hale, Daily Writing Tips)
• Transform Your Story: Expert advice from script consultant Dara Marks (part 1, Kelly Calabrese, NY Castings). See also part 2 (explaining the benefit of making conscious choices and having the character's old consciousness giving way to new consciousness -- a standard part of the character arc, "that a story is more powerful when there is an internal movement of character,") and part 3. A good discussion.
• How Rebecca Skloot built The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (David Dobbs interview with Skloot, The Open Notebook, 11-22-11) Well worth reading. See also her handwritten notes.
• Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, on "narrating history: 'looking for that one family, that one person, that one moment that will help hold everything together'"(Nieman Storyboard, 7-16-10)
• Story structure, really reporting Christmas and the problem with the “sacred space” approach to narrative (Nieman Storyboard, by Hank Steuver,author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present
• Structure (John McPhee, New Yorker, 1-14-13). Only subscribers can read the whole piece (but you might be able to find it in the library).
• A Simple Way to Create Suspense (Lee Child, Opinionator, NY Times, 12-8-12). This principle applies whether you are writing fiction or narrative nonfiction.
• Story Loops (one of many worksheets in EA Deverell's series) See also Blog and Index to over 150 free worksheets.
• Weaving a seamless tale from threads of narrative and exposition (Anil Ananthaswamy, The Open Notebook, 4-22-14)
• The essence of story, in a 358-word song (Tommy Tomlinson, Nieman Storyboard, 2-14-12). "Ode to Billie Joe" contains concrete detail, dialogue, suspense, imagery, meaning
• Storyboard 75: The big book of narrative . A wonderful online treasury of some of the most popular posts on Nieman Storyboard. Read and learn.
Anthologies of short creative nonfiction
• The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction, ed. by Zoë Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore. An anthology of the best from 20 years of Brevity (a journal of concise literary nonfiction). See A Brevity Conversation: on the publication of the Best of Brevity anthology from Rose Metal Press (Kevin Mosby, Zoë Bossiere, and Dinty W. Moore on Essay Daily, 10-19-2020)
• Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction, ed. by Judith Kitchen (excellent examples for creative nonfiction workshops)
• Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present, ed. by Lex Williford and Michael Martone. From memoir to journalism, personal essays to cultural criticism, this anthology brings together works from all genres of creative nonfiction, with pieces by 50 contemporary writers, including Cheryl Strayed, David Sedaris, Barbara Kingsolver.
• In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, ed. by Mary Paumier Jones and Judith Kitchen
• In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction ed. by Mary Paumier Jones and Judith Kitchen
• The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers, ed Dinty W. Moore
Publications and sites that feature narrative nonfiction and long-form journalism
• Atlantic Monthly (publishes great narrative nonfiction pieces)
• Brick, a literary journal
• Brevity, a journal of concise literary nonfiction--well-known and emerging writers working in the extremely brief (750 words or less) essay form, "flash nonfiction." ("Brief nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens ... until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human. ~ Bernard Cooper)
• Byliner (long-form narrative nonficton, old and new). See A discovery engine for narrative nonfiction: Byliner.com launches with high hopes and a sleek site (Lois Beckett, Nieman Journalism Lab
• Creative Nonfiction (True stories, well told. Lee Gutkind's site.) Articles about nuts and bolts, history of the genre, why true stories matter, plus examples.
• Esquire Magazine (and this link takes you to what the magazine billed its seven greatest stories)
• Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction (MSU Press). A literary journal that explores the boundaries of contemporary and creative nonfiction. Personal essays welcome—including nature, environmental, and travel essays—as well as memoirs, personal critical essays, and literary journalism.
• Georgia Review
• Gangrey.com (small group at St. Petersburg Times, prolonging the life of print journalism, described by Word on the Street as Gangrey.com: Keeping Good Writing Alive
• Granta (UK literary magazine "the magazine of new writing"
• Grantland (sports stories even non-sports-lovers may enjoy
• The Guardian's 'The Long Good Read' (articles hand picked twice daily from the Guardian)
• Kindle Singles: A lifeline for the long short read (Kate Carraway, Globe and Mail, 2-18-12). "Jon Krakauer, of Into Thin Air fame, contributed a Single (via Byliner, a publishing company that only deals with work meant for Singles and others like it, such as Quick Reads and NOOK Snaps), called Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, which serves as a 75-page extended rant for Krakauer; a fresh, big-bite-sized piece for his gigantic readership, and an A-list journo to validate Amazon’s project, just a few months in.
• Lapham's Quarterly (a magazine of history and ideas)
• Longform.org (sponsored by Pitt Writers, new and classic nonfiction articles, curated from across the Web)
• Matter. Matter’s Vision for Long-Form Journalism (Felix Salmon, Epicenter, Wired.com 2-24-12). Matter made its $50,000 goal in 38 hours, on Kickstarter.
• Mayborn, the magazine, cousin of the Mayborn Conference
• Mountain Home Magazine, Michael Capuzzo's free newsprint Pennsylvania magazine, which is gaining readers through good storytelling combined with good illustrations
• Narrative Magazine
• Narratively (local stories courageously told--a different theme is chosen each week and each day one in-depth local story on that theme is published, about noncelebrities, taking advantage of the multimedia advantages of Internet storytelling.
• Narrative Matters (Health Affairs), publishes "policy narratives," which take a story (or anecdote) and grow it beyond one person to include a big-picture view of the subject, the idea being to put a human face on policy discussions elsewhere in Health Affairs.
• New York Times Magazine
• The New Yorker
• Ploughshares, award-winning poetry, fiction, essays and memoirs
• Outside (active-lifestyle and adventure-travel magazine)
• ProPublica (journalism in the public interest)
• Pulse: Voices from the heart of medicine (catch up on these engrossing stories by reading the anthology: Pulse - The First Year, or check Back Pages for Stories, Poems, Haiku, or Visuals.
• Reedsy's list of best book publishers who publish narrative nonfiction
• River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative (Where Good Writing Counts and Facts Matter) and the River Teeth blog. "Somebody tells you a story, let's say, and afterward, you ask,'Is it true?' And if the answer matters, you've got your answer." -- Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
• Soundprint (radio) (the aural equivalent of photojournalism -- the evocative experiential documentary)
• Sports Illustrated
• The Sun (Personal. Political. Provocative. Ad-free.)
• Texas Review seeks 1) excellent familiar essays about writers, writing, and literary culture in general; 2) compelling personal narratives, especially memoir and travel writing; 3) innovative creative nonfiction that pushes the boundaries of the genre.
• Tiny Lights (a journey of personal narrative -- holds an annual essay contest, offering $1300 in prizes)
• Vanity Fair
E-singles and long-form journalism
• $2 a Word? Chump Change! With Byliner and Atavist, Hungry Freelance Writers Seek Out Alternatives To Magazine Work (Emily Witt, New York Observer, 9-13-11). With nonfiction novellas in electronic ink, magazines mimic boutique models of Byliner, Atavist
• Evan Ratliff of The Atavist on the shift to device-agnostic reading (Justin Ellis, Monday Q&A, Nieman Journalism Lab, 9-10-12). The ebook platform is moving into direct sales and exploring a subscription model.
• Why the New Statesman turns a long-read feature into a podcast every week (Esther Kezia Thorpe, Digital Content Next, 11-10-22) Following the success of its existing shows The New Statesman Podcast and World Review, news publisher the New Statesman launched its third podcast in April of 2022. Both The New Statesman Podcast and World Review doubled their listenership since the creation of an in-house audio team in 2021. Each week, one of the publication’s feature articles is read out loud on Audio Long Reads, then published as a podcast that is about half an hour long. Many publishers have experimented with audio versions of their articles, but fewer of them have taken the next step and published them as podcasts. To be considered suitable for a podcast, it has to be a strong story that will engage a listener for an extended period of time. It also has to "be evergreen, because we want this to be a catalogue of things that people can come back to." Production values are important for the Audio Long Reads podcast.
• 5 best longform journalism sites (Yuting Jiang, Vox, 5-5-14) Of which three still exist.
• Amazon Kindle Singles ("Compelling ideas expressed at their natural length.") See Amazon Broadens Its Terrain (Leslie Kaufman, NY Times Books, 4-22-13). Editing Kindle Singles, David Blum jump-starts his career, with a Web service that is helping to promote a renaissance of novella-length journalism and fiction, known as e-shorts. Examples include God's Nobodies by Mark Obbie and Guns (Stephen King on gun control) and Second Son (by thriller writer Lee Child, a Kindle Single bestseller).
• The Atavist ("Where stories begin" -- a storytelling platform for the digital age)
--- Long-Form Journalism Finds a Home (David Carr, NY Times, 3-27-2011)
--- and The Atavist: How Multimedia Should Be Done in Digital Magazines (Richard McManus, ReadWriteWeb 6-10-11)
--- Maturing as Publisher and Platform (David Carr, NY Times 5-20-12)
--- Journalism: Done The Atavist Way (David Wolman, Nieman Reports, Winter 2011). "‘… I liked the idea of being part of something new and something that attempts to reinvigorate the field of long-form journalism by re-engineering the business model that pays for it' writes Wolman.
• How’s it going with The Big Round Table and other narrative ventures, Michael Shapiro? (Paige Williams, Nieman Storyboard, 5-10-13) [P.S. The Big Round Table is now a gambling site.]
• The Browser "Think of us as dim sum for hungry minds." A daily selection of the best features, comment and analysis articles from around the web, plus their own FiveBooks interviews, videos, quotes and more, It was conceived as a subsidiary to a publishing platform for long-form journalism, Byliner Originals>.
---Adam Clarke Estes calls it "a socially enabled, editor-curated depository of nearly 30,000 long reads" in an Atlantic story, Byliner: The Pandora of Nonfiction Reading, 6-21-11). A site for discovering and sharing old and new worlds of nonfiction. See ---A discovery engine for narrative nonfiction: Byliner.com launches with high hopes and a sleek site (Lois Beckett, Nieman Journalism Lab, 6-21-11): "It’s a nonfiction nerd’s fantasy: a database of nearly 30,000 feature stories, meticulously organized, sleekly presented, and fully searchable — by author, by publication, by topic." "has the “follow me down the rabbit hole” appeal of Wikipedia (one page leads to another, and suddenly you’ve spent an hour on the site), paired with the ambience of a gentleman’s club: elegant design, good service, a certain tone — like the rustle of electronic pages as Serious People Read."
---It’s a Long Article. It’s a Short Book. No, It’s a Byliner E-Book. (John Tayman, Nieman Reports). Byliner published Jon Krakauer's "Three Cups of Deceit" (an exposé of Greg Mortensen's Three Cups of Tea). ‘Our idea was to create a new way for writers to be able to tell stories at what had always been considered a financially awkward length.’
• Epic ("As fun as fiction but full of facts") Extraordinary true stories.
• Gangrey (Matt Tullis) Narrative journalism and the reporters who write it. Now a podcast.
• Huffington (Arianna's new tablet magazine for iPad, "looking to court a higher-end audience willing to pay for weekly, longform journalism"--according to Justin Ellis.
--- The aggregator builds a magazine: The Huffington Post slows itself down with Huffington (Nieman Journalism Lab, 6-14-12).
--- The Newsonomics of the shiny, new wrapper (Ken Doctor, Nieman Journalism Lab, 6-21-12). "Publishers are getting more aggressive about repackaging their work into ebooks, iPad magazines, and other new forms, in the hopes of creating something readers will pay for."
• interviewland (Nieman Stories on Pinterest )
■ Longform Indexes to many longform nonfiction pieces, indexed by broad topic (e.g., Arts, Crime, Movies & TV), by publication, by writer, and by tag (e.g., #Me Too)
• Longreads.com ("Help people find and share the best storytelling.")
---Longreads: A Digital Renaissance for the Long-form? (David Carr, NY Times, 1-3-11) Read, for example, A Fish Story by Alison Fairbrother (Washington Monthly, May/June 2012). How an angler and two government bureaucrats may have saved the Atlantic Ocean. The political battle over the disappearance of the menhaden, a silvery, six-inch fish that's food for larger fish and farmed for omega-3 oils and fertilizer.
• Medium "Medium connects you with voices and perspectives that matter."
---Three-hit wonder (The Economist, 9-17-16) Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and later Blogger, in 2012 launched Medium, "a clean, elegant-looking destination for essays, open letters and “big think” pieces. It is trying to become the central hub for writing by the public at large, as YouTube is for amateur videos.
---Medium, praised for its UI and UX (user experience and user interface).
---Here's one story: The Queer Case of Luke O’Donovan (Meredith Talusan, 9-17-14) O'Donovan is in jail for stabbing five men who beat him and used homophobic slurs. Was it self-defense, or community justice? (Also about objectivity in reporting.)
---From Medium to Book Deal in 12 Months (Sarah Cooper, The Cooper Review, 9-19-16)
• Narratively (subscribe for The Weekender, get a story a day--great reading)
• Notable Narratives (Nieman Storyboard, with commentary on the stories) Absolutely wonderful.
Read It Later apps for, and online aggregators of, long-form stories:
• A Code of Conduct for Content Aggregators (David Carr, NY Times, 3-11-12)
• Instapaper ("a simple tool to save web pages for reading later" -- gives you a Read Later bookmark)
• UI / UX Design Interviews Talking with User Interface & User Experience Designers, collection edited by Frank Rapacciuolo, for medium.com)
• Pocket aka ReaditLater.
Other storytelling venues include live storytelling such as The Moth (scroll down) and digital and radio storytelling, such as This American Life and Radiolab (see more links below).
About audio narratives
(including digital and radio storytelling)
Reading these stories is like taking a free workshop in audio narration. Thanks to Nieman Storyboard ("breaking down story in every medium") for its excellent articles, links, and analyses of great stories.
• Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel.
• SoundCloud an online audio distribution platform and music sharing website based in Berlin, that enables its users to upload, promote, and share audio -- as YouTube is to video, SoundCloud is to audio.
• Other People’s Money: Ira Glass on Finding Your Voice (with Michael Lewis). aka Against the Rules. Lewis interviews Ira Glass about how Glass got started with his famous radio program. How much did Glass's voice have to do with it? He was told he had absolutely no talent for radio.
• Audm (Presumably not free; acquired by the New York Times) Audm presents the world's best long-form journalism, read aloud word-for-word by celebrated audiobook narrators. "Listen to longform journalism you don't have time to read. Get access to stories from dozens of top publishers."
• A Guide to Translating Science to Audio (Aneri Pattani, The Open Notebook, 6-26-18) "Science Friday’s Key to Live Science Radio: Find Guests Who Bring Research to Life." How it's done on Science Friday ("Find guests who bring research to life"), Science Vs ("Make interviews fun and irreverent"), and Radiolab ("Keeping things conversational"-- putting listeners "inside the experience of the characters"). Listen to Science Friday (Ira Flatow's wonderful show on NPR); Science VS (Gimlet), and RadioLab (WNYC Studios, New York Public Radio).
• Seeking to Awe: An “Oops!” Story (Robert Frederick and Corinna Wu,The Open Notebook, 2-1-12) When hundreds of snow geese landed in and subsequently died from Berkeley Pit’s toxic water, some of the microbes the geese carried found a home in the Butte, Montana lake and started soaking up the lake’s toxins. Bioremediation, however, isn’t the subject of Radiolab senior producer Soren Wheeler’s story, “Even the worst laid plans?” Here, Wheeler tells Robert Frederick and Corinna Wu the story behind the story of the Berkeley Pit, revealing some of the inner workings of Radiolab’s style.What’s Lost and Gained in the World of Narrated Journalism (jacqueline munis, Stanford Rewired, 9-22-21)
• The Infamous “War of the Worlds” Radio Broadcast Was a Magnificent Fluke (A. Brad Schwartz, Smithsonian magazine, 5-6-15) Orson Welles and his colleagues scrambled to pull together the show; they ended up writing pop culture history. It was amazing at the time and this account does it justice.
• Getting Started in Freelance Audio Journalism (Carolyn Wilke, The Open Notebook, 8-3-21) Audio allows characters to tell their own stories, Narang says, an aspect of the medium that is especially meaningful in stories that journalists often overlook. “I want to hear that person—in their voice—and give them representation,” says Sonia Narang, an independent radio and multimedia journalist....To get a feel for how pieces are put together, print reporters can begin by listening carefully to many podcast episodes and radio stories. Sonia Narang visited a village in rural Nepal to meet Bimala Parajuli, a volunteer health worker who was helping to reduce the risk of babies dying from infection. Listen to An ointment could save up to half a million newborns a year – and it costs 20 cents (PRI, 3-17-14)
• HowSound (A bi-weekly podcast on radio storytelling produced by Rob Rosenthal for PRX and Transom) For example, Interviewing for Emotions, The Hidden Work of an Associate Producer, First, Tell Them an Anecdote, and Taking Control Of The Music.
• 5(ish) Questions: Texas journalist Krys Boyd and the art of the radio interview (Krys Boyd, Nieman Storyboard, ) The longtime host of "Think" talks about preparing for her daily show, and how radio is a form of oral storytelling -- "“People have been talking for a long time about how the medium of radio is destined to go away, and I think that the huge interest among young people in the podcast format proves that’s not true. I think it’s stronger than ever."
• Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You'll Ever Need by Margo Leitman (MOTH grandslam champion). Geared to telling stories aloud to a live audience (a different kettle of fish from writing one for a reading audience). One buyer's comment: "This book is about making that oral history more engaging, more vibrant, more attuned to your audience, and exactly what it says: more to the point. There are exercises designed to focus you on what's important, how to condense (or eliminate) non-essential characters and info, and if you are interested, tips on performing as a storyteller."
• Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Some of these tips about story structure for screenwriting might also be helpful for oral storytelling.
• An Element of Surprise ( Neil Sandell, Transom, 3-17-11) If we plan our stories within an inch of their lives, we will be blind us to those moments of opportunity, moments when the plan goes wonderfully surprisingly wrong.
• Subjectivity, hugs and craft: Podcasting as extreme narrative journalism (Siobhan McHugh, Nieman Storyboard, 10-8-19) The literary journalism movement unleashed by Capote, Didion, Mailer and Wolfe in the 1960s is reinventing itself in a remarkably powerful way. The literal power of voice: when the audio medium is added to the arsenal of narrative journalism, its impact is hugely amplified. Firstly, the authorial voice is literally heard, direct and unmediated, via the podcast host. This foments a strong bond. When the host is speaking right into the listener’s ears, the intimacy ratchets up even more. Subjectivity is not just possible in podcasting – it is almost essential. But storytelling via the affective power of audio is very different. "For the listener, you are a main character whether you think you are or not," says Richard Baker, who learned that as a traditional print-first journalist moving into audio with Wrong Skin (Australia, The Age), about a relationship banned under traditional law.
• Publishers experiment with audiobook-only productions (Jenni Laidman, Chicago Tribune, 11-8-17) Hachette is among a growing number of publishers that want to take advantage of the flourishing market for audiobooks by fostering a straight-to-audio revolution that skips books entirely — or publishes the print book and e-book after the audio version.
• Life Is Not a Story: Lessons from Making a Personal Documentary (John Fecile, Transom, 2-21-17) "There’s a tendency to over-contextualize in personal documentary. You want to explain everything, so that the audience appreciates the characters and events in your life just as you do. But sometimes, stuff that is actually important in your life, just isn’t important to the story you’re trying to tell."
• The 6 traits of great storytelling—in one adorable video (Brad Phillips, Ragan's PR Daily, 4-19-12). What made this kid's video go viral? SUCCES (sticky traits): Simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, stories.
• State of the Human (story podcasts, Stanford Storytelling Project)
• HowSound (The backstory to great radio storytelling). Produced by Transom and PRX. A bi-weekly podcast on radio storytelling produced by Rob Rosenthal for the Public Radio Exchange. From fieldwork and recording techniques to narrative and ethics, HowSound explores the ins-and-outs of radio storytelling. Archive of HowSound podcasts.
• Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound, ed. John Biewen. (Read online Listen (Jay Alison, Afterword to the book). See also: Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production by Jonathan Kern.
• The Man Who Saved LBJ (Paul Burka, TexasMonthly, Aug 2000) Harry Middleton made the decision to release Lyndon Johnson's secret White House recordings. The rest is history. "In 1990, at about the time when biographer Robert Caro was coming out with his second unflattering volume about Johnson, Middleton opted to open to the public an extensive collection of secret recordings of Johnson’s telephone conversations in the White House—even though Johnson himself had decreed that the recordings be embargoed until fifty years after his death. As soon as the first tapes were released in 1993, they were an immediate sensation: a remarkably candid portrait of a master politician at work. As degrading as the Nixon tapes had been, the Johnson tapes were just as uplifting. Network newscasts featured them; historical works analyzed them; C-SPAN radio continues to broadcast them for two hours every Saturday afternoon. “The tapes have helped to reestablish Johnson’s hold on the historical imagination,” says Robert Dallek, the author of a well-respected two-volume biography of Johnson."
• X because Y, but Z by Will Rogers (Stanford Storytelling Project), which led me to How Sound: The Back Story to Great Radio Storytelling (PRX.org and Transom.org). How Sound's previous iteration was Saltcast.
• Audio danger: stories from the edge of listening (Julia Barton in the first of several posts in 2012 focused on developments in and examples from the world of audio narratives, Nieman Storyboard 1-4-12). "Writers and video producers live in dread of the wandering eye. Audio producers live for it." (They want to keep us stuck in our cars, listening for the end of the story. And they do! I am often sitting like a dope listening to my radio in the parking lot.)
• Your Brain on Story: Why Narratives Win Our Hearts and Minds (Michele Wheldon, Pacific-Standard, 4-22-14) “The power of anecdote is so great that it has a momentum in and of itself.” Ira Glass contends, “no matter how boring the facts are,” with a well-told story, “you feel inherently as if you are on a train that has a destination.”
• Digital storytelling, Hurricane Katrina, and using technology with a "narrative purpose", a Nieman Storyboard interview with USA Today interactives director Joshua Hatch on Stories from the Second Line and the making of Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years Later, a series that combines maps, interactive visuals, video and bare-bones text.
• Audio danger: NPR’s Kelly McEvers on trauma and the calculus of risk . (Julia Barton, Nieman Storyboard, 2-3-12). Stories like the one described here "are one way to slice through the obstacle of listener confusion (and, let’s face it, indifference) when it comes to reports from abroad. "I try to make those personal stories have a larger point, but just to reach that point through personal narratives. People in Dubuque are going to remember that more than a talking head,' McEvers says." Reporters like McEvers are rewarded for doing the wrong thing.
• The Audio Drama Directory (helping you find the best in free dramatized audio)
• My Top 10 Audio Dramas (The Podcast Host)
• The top
radio talk shows and podcasts (both good and intelligent, with a smidgeon of TV)
• NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling on golden radio, Yoda parallels and the Robert Krulwich moment (Julia Barton, Nieman Storyboard, 2-3-12, presents Danny Z's excellent tips on interviewing and editing, with links to excellent examples).
• How to submit story ideas to "This American Life," and here are four pitches for stories that made it to the show.
• Audio danger: transgressive voices(Julia Barton, Nieman Storyboard, 3-15-12, on shows that don't quite fit the mold--weird radio)
• Story, interrupted: why we need new approaches to digital narrative (Pedro Monteiro, Nieman Narrative 9-8-11). How we need to explore ways to use new digital platforms to enrich narrative with supplementary text, pictures, maps, videos, interactive activities involving the reader/listener, etc. -- and who is doing so.
• CPT Theatre (the audio storytelling arm of Critical Point Theatre). I particularly recommend Why Can’t I Feel My Legs? (starts at minute 22) in which Alex Garretson talks about waking up with no feeling in his legs, then experiencing increasing paralysis, then watching as the medical team tries to figure out why, and how he dealt with the crisis. ("That's when I called my Mom. She was the one losing the most sleep over it.")
• Public Radio International’s Lisa Mullins on interviewing for story. Some craft tips for pulling narrative from daily news Q-and-A’s. "A lot of the fear in interviews happens when the interviewee doesn’t know if he or she is giving you want you want," She tells them before the interview what she might want, then she teases them along and directs them--they get involved in building the story.
• Interview as story: on radio, online and in print More on interviewing as story. "Whether they use full-on storytelling or just crib a few literary devices, interviews have their own narrative arcs and angles. From political drama (think the Frost-Nixon standoff or “The Fog of War”) to Studs Terkel’s cultural layering, interviews create a kind of permanent present-tense experience for viewers."
• Association of Independents in Radio (AIR)
• Risk (podcasts of Kevin Allison's live shows). It may be helpful to hear Allison's online workshop, Intro to Storytelling, a practical, step-by-step guide to brainstorming on, workshopping and presenting oral stories (lifetime access to 2.5 hours of video).
• Serial (the podcast series that started it all, or got it heated up to the point of mass participation)
• Art Of Storytelling Alive And Well In Audio Books (Lynn Neary, Morning Edition, NPR 11-16-10). Audio books as part of a long tradition of oral storytelling, except instead of sitting in a cave listening the tribe may be driving SUVs
• Can We Humanize the Web? New sites, such as Cowbird, aim for story-telling that connects us. (Wall Street Journal, Marvels, 12-31-11)
• Center for Digital Storytelling, a California-based community arts organization rooted in the craft of personal storytelling, with an emphasis on first-person narrative, meaningful workshop processes, and participatory production methods. Newsletter focuses on five core area: Stories of Health, Silence Speaks (stories to fight gender-based violence), Witness Tree (stories of place and environmental change),Immigrant Voices, and Women, Girls, and Leadership.
• Cowbird (a new form of participatory journalism, grounded in the simple human stories behind major news events and universal themes--see, for example, The Occupy Saga ("On Sept. 17, 2011, a handful of people set up camp in Zuccoti Park and called for others to join them. This is their story.") "Cowbird is a public library of human experience, offering a simple set of storytelling tools — for free, and without ads." This, for instance: My Father's Coat by Cathy de Moll (very brief).
• Digital storytelling revives the art of gossip (Katherine May, Aeon) Messy plots, audience participation and uncertain endings: how digital storytelling revives the ancient art of gossip. "The internet didn’t create this kind of story (Serial): in fact, it’s probably the oldest narrative form of all. This is narrative as a rolling multitude of voices; a story that has no controllable ending, fading instead into a network of other tales told by a network of other people. It is the narrative of everyday life, of friends we know well and not-so-well, and the ways we use their narratives to prop up our own. We know this kind of story as deeply as we know language. This has huge implications for writers. It reveals that we’re not as keen on neat narrative arcs and emotional closure as we thought we were."
• The Transformation of NPR (Jennifer Dorroh, American Journalism Review Oct/Nov 2008). Long defined by its radio programming, National Public Radio is reinventing itself as a multiplatform force
• Fresh Air (Terry Gross's in-depth interviews, WHYY)
• Powerful Alzheimer’s narrative nets radio documentary award (Liz Seegert, Covering Health, 12-2-14). See How * Did It Q&A and the 23-minute radio documentary itself: Living Well with Dementia – a personal journey
• A Prairie Home Companion (a live radio variety show hosted by Garrison Keillor, Minnesota Public Radio, stories and more)
• Radio Lab, with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, is a radio show and podcast weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries
• Snap Judgment,a themed, weekly NPR storytelling show that presents compelling personal stories
• Storify. This site (combining journalism and social media) lets you create stories using social media, dragging and dropping in narrative order tweets, photos, videos, comments, snippets, etc. Read What Is Storify And Why Did They Raise $2m?. Here's Storify story of the year 2011: Tracking Journalist Arrests at Occupy Protests Around the Country (Josh Stearns)
• The Story (North Carolina Public Radio, American Public Media)
• Story Salon (Salon.com and The Story)
• Tell Me More
• This American Life (from WBEZ, hosted by Ira Glass). Start listening to one of these as you drive to buy groceries and you'll find yourself sitting in the parking lot, listening to hear the end of the story.
• Tinsel Tales: NPR Christmas Favorites and Tinsel Tales 2: NPR Christmas Stories (2012; host, Lynn Neary). See also
Tinsel Tales 3: NPR Christmas Stories and Tinsel Tales (Carlos E. Morales, NPR, 11-19-15).
• The Transaction (listeners' stories about purchases that led to great stories--listen to a few)
• Web of Stories . Watch videos of famous scientists, authors, movie makers and artists telling their stories and be inspired to record and share your own.
• More great radio listening (mostly NPR)
Multimedia journalism and storytelling
• Narratively (Human stories, courageously told). See
• A Roadmap to Multimedia Storytelling (free ebook from industry expert Martin Waxman and Cision, in exchange for contact info). How people discover content, does video pass the "Mom test"?, what four things every podcast needs to succeed, tips for taking better photos.
• Interactive Narratives (multimedia storytelling, sponsored by Online News Association)
• MediaStorm (exemplary online multimedia narrative)
• Kidnapped in Syria, Jonathan Alpeyrie's story in comic format about how he survived capture in hostile territory. The first collaboration between Narratively and Symbolia magazine.
• Symbolia(where comic books and journalism meet). Symbolia merges comic books, journalism, and interactive to tell amazing stories from around the world--making the news into art.
• Slomo (a NY Times op-doc), an op-documentary about a neuroscience doctor, John Kitchin, 69 who realized life was a forced trudge making him miserable. He decided to completely reinvent himself and now is known as Slomo and lives out his life skating at the beach.
• Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (video), part of a multimedia piece (John Branch, NY Times, 12-21-12 ), a harrowing story of skiers caught in an avalanche.
• The Core of Story (Erin Polgreen, Nieman Reports, Spring 2014) How comics can enhance reader engagement and bring new audiences to narrative nonfiction
• Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt (by Kainaz Ameria and a team from National Public Radio)
• Would You Stay? Life After Chernobyl and Fukushima by Michael Forster Rothbart and ZUMA Press
• The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace. By John Jeremiah Sullivan; photos and video by Leslye Davis; production by Tom Giratikanon.
• The Jockey (article and narration by Barry Bearak, images by Chang W. Lee). Russell Baze is the winningest jockey in American history. Yet his name is familiar to only the most avid followers of horse racing.
• New York Times Wins NPPA's Best Use Of Multimedia (Donald R. Winslow, National Press Photographers Association, the voice of visual journalists, 3-24-14). Links to prize-winning examples of multimedia journalism).
• The 'Snowfall' Effect and Dissecting the Multimedia Longform Narrative (Jeremy Rue, Multimedia Shooter, 4-21-13). Apropos Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (John Branch, part of a multimedia piece, NY Times, 12-21-12)
• The importance of words in multimedia storytelling (Jacquie Marino, Nieman storyboard)
• Beyond the "Like" Button: Digitally Addictive Storytelling and the Brain (Amy O’Leary, a news editor and multimedia producer for The New York Times)
"When a day passes, it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren't told or books weren't written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life, is one long story." ~ Isaac Bashevis Singer
Personal Storytelling Venues
and a few links to or about applied, organizational, and professional storytelling
· Online venues for narrative nonfiction
· Excellent online examples of narrative nonfiction
· The Moth
· Other venues for live storytelling
· Helpful books and tips on storytelling
Online venues for true stories and narrative nonfiction
• Spot.Us, Byliner, Atavist Are Showing Freelance Writers the Money (David Cohn, Idea Lab, 6-8-11). "I think gigs or "gigging" will be the way freelancers turn their practice into a career in the future. Instead of pitching story to story, you'll be working project to project or gig to gig. And that means reporters who work on projects will need representation." Among places to be spotted:
• Spot.us (community-funded reporting)
• The Atavist. Read also Literary journalism finds new platforms by David L. Ulin (L.A. Times 5-15-11). "Byliner, the Atavist and Virginia Quarterly Review take the form into the future."
• Byliner. Read also Will Byliner Save Longform Journalism? (Elana Zak, New Media Bistro 5-12-11)
• Longreads. Aggregates (links to) the best long-form stories on the web. See its Community Picks section, plus Best of 2014 (best picks in No. 1 story picks, most popular exclusives, and reporting in four beats: sports, crime, science, and essays). Or follow Longreads picks on Twitter.
• Truly*Adventurous A digital magazine built with faith in the power of longform storytelling. "We commission original true stories from some of the best nonfiction writers working today." This page links to lots of stories.
• StoryMarket ("Freelancers: Discover Entrepreneurial Journalism. Showcase your work, bringing editors to you. Sell your original work to publishers a la carte." ("welcome to the future of content syndication")
• The Sunday Long Read (chosen every Sunday by @JacobFeldman4 and @DVNJr) Subscribe here and see past editions here. Or check the Long Reads podcast (listen in the car and finish at home). Here's a sample: The Secret Papers of Lee Atwater, Who Invented the Scurrilous Tactics That Trump Normalized (Jane Mayer, New Yorker, 5-6-21) An infamous Republican political operative’s unpublished memoir shows how the Party came to embrace lies, racial fearmongering, and winning at any cost.
• What is Medium? (Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, 8-23-13) The site from Twitter's co-founders was one year old in 2013, and still mysterious. It pays some writers but not most. See How to Use Medium: The Complete Guide to Medium for Marketers (Kevan Lee, Buffer, 4-2-15), which suggests it is for content marketing.--with articles from short- to long-form, light to deep. See also An Infallible Guide: How You Can Be a Top Medium Writer — Key Learnings From My Experience (Dakota Shane, Medium,1-16-17)
• Cowbird ("a witness to life" -- gathers and preserves exceptional stories of human life). Each day Cowbird takes a photo and writes a short story to go with it. You can look these up by category: Curated stories, Most loved, With audio,, Most viewed, etc.. For example, see and hear I Had Never Heard the Word by Merredith Branscombe.
• Human Parts (A community for storytellers. We explore the patchwork of the human condition through experimental personal writing.) On Medium.co
• All Together Now, a national StoryLab Project sponsored by the Center for Digital Storytelling (now called StoryCenter, engages communities and individuals by using first-person stories to increase awareness of civil and human rights. Other projects include Silence Speaks (surfacing first-person narratives of struggle, courage, and transformation and working to ensure that these stories play an instrumental role in promoting gender equality, health, and human rights) and Real Family (sharing surfacing adoption narratives to promote healing and connection--sharing an inclusive perspective of family through story)
• Pulse (voices from the heart of medicine). (Read Los Angeles Times story: When overwhelmed by health policy, take the Pulse of the profession)
• Storytelling, Part 1 (Pat McNees, Writers and Editors blog, 10-10-16) Likeability is important, said this panel of storytellers. So are conflict, voice, gesture, and facial expression.
• Periodicals and sites that feature narrative nonfiction (a/k/a creative nonfiction)
• Corporate and organizational storytelling (links to excellent material on the subject)
• Acts of Witness (Ochberg Society, inviting short, personal essays by reporters and photographers about hurt they experience reporting on trauma, conflict, and human rights violations)
• Folklore and Mythology (electronic texts)
• Aesop's Fables (Harvard Classics, Bartleby.cm)
The Moth was born in small-town Georgia, garnered a cult following in New York City, and then rose to national acclaim with the wildly popular podcast and Peabody Award–winning weekly public radio show The Moth Radio Hour.
• The Moth (True Stories Told Live).
• The Moth (popular stories, streamed -- a good selection for listening during coronavirus isolation!
• The Moth Radio Hour (PRX, listen here)
• Moth story SLAMS are open-mic storytelling competitions, held in 28 cities around the world. They are open to anyone with a five-minute story to share on the night’s theme. These live events often sell out, so register early.
• How I Became an Award-Winning Storyteller and Public Speaker (Christine Wolf, Writer's Haven, 7-30-22) "I came to see that Nana was less interested in my “reporting” and more captivated by my observations. While it’s true that hearing about my everyday life was her escape from a lonely life, she was most moved by my views on navigating the journey." Nana helped her realize that authenticity was her strong suit.
• All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown ed. by Catherine Burns, foreword by Neil Gaiman. Read a glowing review: Stories of Wonder, Fear and Kindness From the Moth (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times, 4-3-17)
• The Moth: 50 True Stories ed. by Catherine Burns, preface by Adam Gopnik.
• Molly Ringwald: 'For the first time in my life, I found myself consumed by stage fright' (The Guardian, 8-8-14) Despite acting since she was three, bratpacker Molly Ringwald was daunted when asked to tell a deeply personal story live on stage. She explains how hip New York storytelling group The Moth persuaded her, and why you should see them in London
• Neil Gaiman: why I'm scared of telling stories… and why I love The Moth (Guardian, 8-8-14) "The strange thing about these stories is that none of the tricks we use to gain love and respect work. The tales of how clever we were, how wise, how we won, mostly fail. The practised jokes and witty one-liners crash and burn. Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Having a place where the story starts and a place it's going is also important."
THE MOTH STORYTELLING SPECIAL (Read online in THE GUARDIAN)
• Sir Paul Nurse: 'I looked at my birth certificate. That was not my mother's name' (The Guardian, 8-8-14). The Nobel prize-winning geneticist revealed his biggest family secret
• How I told my brother I was now a woman… at my father's funeral (Kimberly Reed, The Guardian, 8-8-14) Reed recalled how her father's death forced her to reveal her gender reorientation to her brother, her home town and her high school football team
• How I accidentally shot and killed my best friend (Kemp Powers, The Guardian, 8-8-14)
• A Mormon's guide to dating (Elna Baker, The Guardian, 8-8-14)
• Malcolm Gladwell: how I ruined my best friend's wedding (Malcolm Gladwell, The Guardian 8-8-14)
• Read the whole collection in The Moth, ed. by Catherine Burns
Other venues for stories told aloud to a live audience
• Back Fence PDX (Portland, Oregon-- seven performers tell true, original, unmemorized, ten-minute stories suited to the evening's theme)
• Better Said Than Done (a community of professional storytellers based in Fairfax, VA)
• Open-mic journalism: How The Arizona Republic found success with storytelling events (Justin Ellis, Nieman Lab, 5-22-15) The four-year-old program has helped boost the newspaper’s events business and helped strengthen relationships with the community through nights of storytelling. “In the same way that journalists place an incredibly high premium on veracity in stories and proving what they know, we place a premium on emotional safety for the listeners.” (See also Thinking of starting an events business? API has a guide for news companies (Justin Ellis, Nieman Lab, 8-7-14) There’s money in conferences, festivals, and expos, but you’ll still have to work for it.
• Porchlight (San Francisco's Storytelling Series, akin to The Moth)
• The power of Pop-Up Magazine’s live journalism (Lene Bech Sillesen, CJR, March/April 2015) "As a so-called “live magazine,” Pop-Up presents nonfiction stories narrated onstage."
• National Storytelling Network ("We Grow Storytellers"), which hosts a National Storytelling Conference and has other resources, including a Directory of Storytellers and articles such as How to Become a Storyteller (for telling stories to an audience)
• 100 Storied Careers (Q&As with 100 professional storytellers, Kathy Hansen, A Storied Career)
• Network of Biblical Storytellers (NBS International)
• League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES)
• The Stoop (Baltimore)
• Storytelling Guilds and Organizations, by State. See NSN's links to resources
• Storytelling Links
• Storytelling: It's News (links to stories about storytelling, by National Storytelling Network)
• SpeakeasyDC (nonprofit arts organization, giving voice to people's life experiences, in Washington DC)
• Storytelling Associations (links, open directory project)
• Voices in the Glen (a storytelling guild in Greater Washingto DC area)
• Worldwide Story Network (a Facebook community of story practitioners who apply story-based techniques in organizational settings)
Helpful books and tips about storytelling
• Storytelling (Pat McNees, part 1). Tips on oral storytelling, from a couple of masters. For example, "Professional oral storytellers don't memorize their stories, says Ellouise Schoettler. You want to remember 'beats' and actions. She quoted Donald Davis as telling people to think of stories as crossing a creek -- you need to get six stones across the creek. You need to know what's supposed to happen -- what series of actions occur. You don't need to remember all the words."
• From Plot to Narrative by Elizabeth Ellis (step-by-step process for creating and enhancing stories)
• Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis. A difficult story can powerfully alter not only he who tells it but also they who hear it.
• Telling Your Own Stories by Donald Davis (memory prompts and more)
• Writing as a Second Language by Donald Davis. From experience to story to prose. When we talk about language arts in our school, we focus on reading and writing instead of nourishing the whole oral and kinesthetic package that is our spoken language. Davis argues that we must step back into our familiar “first” language―the spoken word―as our creative medium and learn to “translate” into that new foreign language called writing. He argues that talking and writing need not be mutually exclusive in language development.
• Storytellers' tips (various storytellers, Voices in the Glen)
• World Storytelling Day (March 20th)
Storytelling resources from the Nieman Foundation
• Notable narratives (the full archive of this excellent series, each piece linking to and commenting on a strong piece of narrative journalism)
• Nieman Storyboard ("Exploring the art and craft of story"). Check out these sections (each with wonderful examples)
---Story annotations by the journalists involved
---Why's this so good?
---One great moment
---From the editor
• Nieman Storyboard newsletter archive
• John Lennon, Jimmy Breslin and (deadline) narrative as the sum of its parts (Lauren Kessler, Nieman Storyboard, 4-7-23) Narrative Elements 1: A narrative nonfiction writer and teacher starts a series that explores narrative journalism element by element. "Breslin’s brilliance was also his simultaneously muscular and graceful practicing of the key elements of storytelling. The guy knew how to write a scene. He knew what to look for. He knew what to include and what to leave out. He knew how to pace it. He knew how and where to insert exposition."
• Reporting and writing scenes: The foundational building block of stories (Lauren Kessler, Narrative Elements 2, Nieman Storyboard, 4-20-23) The only difference between writing a scene as a novelist and writing a scene as a journalist — and it is a huge and existentially important difference — is that journalists do not fabricate scenes; they report them. Here Kessler explores the multiple methods of reporting required to collect the raw material for meaningful scenes.
• Videos taken by Parler users from the U.S. Capitol assault tell a valuable story (Nieman Storyboard) ProPublica collected banned videos of the insurrection from Parler posts to archive that historic day.
• Nieman Lab The Nieman Journalism Lab is an attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age. (Broad topics: Business Models, Mobile & Apps,Audience & Social, Aggregation & Discovery, Reporting & Production) See, for example,
---When journalists put tweets in news stories, do they transfer too much power to Twitter? (Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor, Audience and Social, Nieman Lab, 3-26-21) Journalists have transferred some of their own power over the presentation of current events to Twitter by normalizing the ways tweets are presented in news stories.
---Michigan Radio’s new tool makes news buried in city council meetings easier to find (Hanaa' Tameez, Aggregation and Discovery 3-3-21)
---How mainstream media failed the Atlanta shooting victims (Natasha Ishak, Reporting & Production, 3-24-21) The tragedy highlights large news organizations’ flawed approach in covering communities at the margins.
• Nieman Reports. For example,
---Interviewing Sources (Isabel Wilkerson, Nieman Reports, Spring 2002) Seven steps of interviewing. ‘The center of the onion is what you want.’
---Redefining What It Means to Cover War Reporting on not just war but “people’s extraordinary bravery [and] their creativity in the face of complete devastation.” (by Alissa J. Rubin, Spring 2021)
---True Newsroom Diversity Must Account for Disability Status, Too (Sara Luterman, 3-17-21) Disabled people make up 20% of the U.S. population but take up little space on mastheads and in coverage. Why?
---Get to Know the Newsrooms Focused on Elevating Latinx Voices in the U.S. (Sofia Cerda Campero, 3-24-21)
• Notable Narratives
• Annotation Tuesday! (insight into the nuts and bolts of good writing, by examing good examples)
• Digital Storytelling
• The importance of words in multimedia storytelling (Jacqueline Marino, Nieman)
• Top Storyboard posts
• Nieman Storyboard essays on craft
• Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism
• Nieman Seminar for Narrative Editors (these appear to have been suspended, starting 2009)
• Fellows' Seminar in Narrative Journalism (These appear also to have been suspended.)
An intimate new narrative conference, Cali style (Paige Williams, 6-29-14) "For the better part of the last decade, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism ran the most popular narrative journalism conference in the country. For three days each spring, hundreds of journalists gathered in Cambridge or Boston to hear notable storytellers talk craft....From 2007 to 2009, journalist and editor Constance Hale ran the Nieman narrative program, and she oversaw the final conference. (The Nieman Foundation ended the conference as a cost-cutting measure, but the public part of our narrative initiative remained online, as the Narrative Digest, the precursor to Nieman Storyboard.)"...On Nov. 8 she’ll relaunch a national narrative conference at her alma mater, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “The Latest in Longform” will be a “daylong exploration of nonfiction storytelling.”
Studies of standout story work, exploring what makes it special.
Why's This So Good?
• Why's This So Good? This superb Nieman Storyboard series explores what makes classic narrative nonfiction stories worth reading. There are more than 100 of these now.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
• “Why’s this so good?” No. 56: Nora Ephron and the thing about breasts (Wesley Morris on masterful hyperbole, 9-4-12)
• No. 58: Scott Anderson and the hunger warriors (Brendan I. Koerner on the power pivot, 9-11-12). "[O]ne more example of Anderson’s talent for pivoting from hope to despair. The story’s kicker could not be any more plainspoken, or any more devastating."
• “Why’s this so good?” No. 1: Truman Capote keeps time with Marlon Brando by Alexis Madrigal 6-27-11). Truman Capote’s profile of the depressive, incoherent, brilliant Marlon Brando is one of the greatest of all time. Published in 1957 in The New Yorker, it nominally takes place one evening in the Miyako Hotel in Kyoto. One could point out many things about craft in the piece. The descriptions of characters are finely observed and [...]
• McPhee takes on the Mississippi by Carl Zimmer No. 2, 7-7-11). When the Mississippi River recently surged down through the middle of the country, a lot of people I follow on Twitter took the opportunity to point to John McPhee’s marvelous 1987 article “Atchafalaya.”I took their advice and revisited the piece. After 24 years, the story is still valuable simply as a guide to the risks faced by [...]
• André Aciman on the geography of longing by Radhika Jones (No. 3, 7-12-11). André Aciman’s “Shadow Cities” comes out swinging. “On a late spring morning almost two years ago,” it begins, “while walking on Broadway, I suddenly noticed that something terrible had happened to Straus Park.”
• Heinz on Air Lift, son of Bold Venture by Chris Jones (No. 4, 7-19-11). On a rainy afternoon in 1949, W.C. Heinz watched a beautiful young horse break its leg and then get shot in the head. And then he sat down and wrote about it for the readers of the New York Sun, ordinary men and women, commuters and shoeshine kids.
• Raymond Chandler sticks it to Hollywood by Maud Newton (No. 5, 7-27-11). We tend now to think of Hollywood’s hackneyed, would-be blockbusters as a new phenomenon, one borne of desperation, unprecedented cynicism and the rise of narrative television. But Raymond Chandler’s wonderful 1945 essay-screed “Writers in Hollywood” reminds us that the motion picture industry was, by and large, as uninspired and ridiculous 65 years ago as it is today.
• Alma Guillermoprieto’s view on Bogota by Jay Caspian Kang (No. 6, 8-3-11)
• Barry Siegel and the weight of consequences by Deborah Blum (No. 7, 8-9-11)
• Why's this so good? archives
Great online examples of narrative journalism (aka narrative nonfiction or creative nonfiction)
You can find links to MANY excellent pieces of literary (narrative) journalism at the Nieman Storyboard site, many examples from which I link to below. Nieman Storyboard has also provided links to all the Notable Narratives from the Nieman Narrative Digest for the years 2006 to 2013.
Jessica Camille Aguirre. Australia Is Deadly Serious About Killing Millions of Cats (NY Times Magazine, 8-25-19) Feral felines are driving the country’s native species to extinction. Now a massive culling is underway to preserve what’s left of the wild.
Scott Allen. Critical Care: The Making of an ICU Nurse (a four-part series in the Boston Globe, October 2005)
Rebecca Altman. Time-bombing the future (Aeon, 1-2-19, a narrative essay) Synthetics created in the 20th century have become an evolutionary force, altering human biology and the web of life.
Dan Barry. Donna's Diner. This Land: Elyria, Ohio--At the Corner of Hope and Worry (that first link is to video, with Donna and regulars talking in the diner) (NY Times, 10-13-12). The story is told in five parts:
• 1. Donna's Diner ,
• 2: Elyrian Landscape: New Mayor, Big To-Do List ,
• 3. Elyria Then, Elyria Now: After a Childhood Pouring Refills, Reaching Beyond the Past,
• 4. Never-Ending Conversation: In the Hard Fall of a Favorite Son, a Reminder of a City’s Scars , and
• With a New Menu and a Makeover, a Promise to Keep Going
Moni Basu. Chaplain Turner's War (8-part series, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6-22-08). Compelled to serve where the suffering was greatest, he headed to Iraq. He has already lost 14 men. What will become of the rest of his flock?
Barry Bearake. The Day the Sea Came, Part 1 of a long feature about the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, which David Hayes cites as an example, like John Hersey's Hiroshima, of parallel structure: a number of characters and a single event. Go here for Part 2.
Kelley Benham. Never Let Go (three-part series, by Kelley Benham, Tampa Bay Times, 12-9-12). Micro preemie parents decide: Fight or let go of their extremely premature baby? Part 1 Lost and Found . When a baby is born at the edge of viability, which is the greater act of love: to save her, or to say goodbye? Part 2, The Zero Zone In a neverland of sick babies, the NICU is a place where there is no future or past. Every moment is a fight for existence.; and Part 3, Calculating the Value of a Life. Read about the story: Notable Narrative: What Nieman Storyboard loved about this series.
Sarah Berns. Finding Home in the West—by Smokejumping (Outside, 11-8-18) "What I've been searching for, I now see, is something bigger than acceptance, bigger than smokejumping, bigger than proving I can be one of the guys." Read: How film class led to fighting wildfires which led to finding a home which led to a memoir (Kim Cross, Nieman Storyboard, 12-11-18) Sarah Berns took Outside readers smokejumping (and brothel-hopping). Now she takes us on a screenwriter's journey through narrative.
Joseph Bernstein. Alt-White: How the Breitbart Machine Laundered Racist Hate (BuzzFeedNews, 10-5-17) A cache of documents reveals the truth about Steve Bannon’s alt-right “killing machine.” How Breitbart and Milo smuggled Nazi and white nationalist ideas into the mainstream. See also The beat reporter behind BuzzFeed’s blockbuster alt-right investigation (Matthew Kassel, CJR, 10-17-17)
John Biewen. Married to the Military (American RadioWorks, listen to hour-long radio program or read the transcript)
Eric Boodman. Anatomy of a beep: A medical device giant and an avant-garde musician set out to redesign a heart monitor’s chirps (STAT, 9-10-18) One of many Boodman articles (Muck Rack links)
Mark Bowden. The Case of the Vanishing Blonde (Vanity Fair, 11-8-10) Private investigator Ken Brennan was given a mystery: who raped, beat and left for dead a 21-year-old blonde woman? She couldn't remember her attacker. The police gave up on the case. This is the story of the man who broke it open, and the steps that led him to a perpetrator no one else suspected. (See Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, 5-4-11)
John Branch. Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (video), part of a multimedia piece (NY Times, 12-21-12 ), a harrowing story of skiers caught in an avalanche.
Janet Burroway. Life After Tim (St. Petersburg Times, 12-12-04). Tim shot himself dead after returning from Iraq. His mother Janet Burroway reflects on the life of “a fiercely honourable boy.”
Janet Burroway. My son, my soldier, my sorrow (St. Petersburg Times, 6-13-04). In three essays written over 20 years, a liberal, pacifist mother struggles to understand her conservative son, a proud soldier and member of the NRA.
Rukmini Callimachi, ISIS and the Lonely Young American (Americas, NY Times, 6-27-15)
Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin. Scientology: The Truth Rundown, Part 1 of a special three-part report on the Church of Scientology (St. Petersburg Times, 6-21-09).
Roy Peter Clark. Amazing Grace in the Men's Room (Sunday Journal, St. Petersburg Times, 9-30-07)
Roy Peter Clark. "Three Little Words" (series that ran in the St. Petersburg Times over 29 days in 1996). "Clark worked for two years to piece together this intensely personal family history. Set in the time of AIDS, "Three Little Words" is a tale of trust, betrayal and redemption. The story, which unfolded here and on the pages of the St. Petersburg Times over 29 days, challenges us to reconsider our thoughts about marriage, privacy, public health and sexual identity."
Dudley Clendenin. The Good Short Life (Opinion piece, Sunday Review, The New York Times 7-9-11). Living with Lou Gehrig's disease is about life, when you know there's not much left, writes Clendenin, who plans to end his life before ALS prevents him from doing so. Nieman Storyboard has an interesting Editors' Roundtable: The New York Times on facing death as well as an interview with the author: Dudley Clendinen on building stories from life and choosing grace in death: “I don’t quibble with fate”
Pamela Coloff. The Innocent Man, Part One and Part Two. During the 25 years that Michael Morton spent wrongfully imprisoned for murdering his wife, he kept three things in mind: Someday he would prove his innocence to their son. Someday he would find out who had killed her. And someday he would understand how this had happened to him.
Joanna Connors. Beyond Rape: A Survivor's Story (The Cleveland Plain Dealer 5-4-08). Connors investigates her own 1984 rape and reports on it in a story that is part personal essay, part long-form journalism. "We tell stories to connect with each other. We tell our own stories -- sometimes just to ourselves -- to make sense of the world and our experience in it," she writes in part 3. "As a reader and a writer, I believe in the power of stories to bring us together and heal. I have asked so many other people to open themselves up and let me tell their stories, all the while withholding my own. I owed this to them."\
Andrea Curtis. Small Mercies (Toronto Life, December 2005). He was born at three and a half pounds, the length of a squirrel, with no eyelashes or toenails, and pencil-thin legs poking out of a diaper that covered almost his entire torso. He was too small to eat or breath on his own. Too fragile even to be held. Discussed by Bruce Gillespie, Why's this so good? (Nieman Storyboard, 1-24-12): "a textbook example of how to pace a story for maximum reader engagement that is sure to keep you glued to the page until the very last word."
Thomas Curwen. Ana's Story: Isolated by her appearance, she yearned for a place in the world(two-part series in the Los Angeles Times about how facial reconstruction may change the life of Ana Rodarte, whose life has been defined by facial disfigurement caused by neurofibromatosis, 4-4-09)
Lane DeGregory and Melissa Lyttle. The Girl in the Window (St. Petersburg Times, 7-31-08). The 'Plant City police found a girl lying in her roach-infested room, naked except for an overflowing diaper. The child, pale and skeletal, communicated only through grunts. She was almost 7 years old." The story of Danielle, a feral child, deprived of her humanity by a lack of nurturing. With a follow-up story by Lane DeGregory: Three years later, 'The Girl in the Window' learns to connect (8-21-11)
Susan Dominus. The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá (NY Times Magazine, 7-9-15) After a hospital error, two pairs of Colombian identical twins were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins. This is the story of how they found one another — and of what happened next.
Jack El-Hai. Instant Life (Medium, 8-23-21) The passage of a few days would bring the appearance of Sea Monkeys in the aquarium. The packaging foretold times when they would grow...
Greg Donahue. Porambo (Atavist, 3-28-18) How a fearless journalist who wrote a seminal account of police brutality during the 1967 race riots in Newark, New Jersey, wound up on the wrong side of the law.
Sheri Fink's story (in two venues, with different titles): The Deadly Choices at Memorial (ProPublica, journalism in the public interest, 8-24-09); Strained by Katrina, a Hospital Faced Deadly Choices (New York Times Magazine, 8-25-09); and the story about the story: An extremely expensive cover story — with a new way of footing the bill by Zachary M. Seward, Nieman Journalism Lab (a collaborative attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age). Also of interest: The Deadly Choices at Memorial (letters in response to the Times story).
David Finkel's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, for "explanatory journalism," Exporting Democracy (Washington Post) about U.S. efforts to bring democracy to Yemen.
FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver's Political Calculus (New York Times blog), the first blog Nieman Narrative selected as a Notable Narrative.
Aminatta Forna. The Last Vet (Granta 109: Work, 1-13-10) About Gudush Jalloh, the only working vet in Sierra Leone, who devoted himself to the lives of the city’s street dogs, who drove around at night "rousing the local people into action to save the lives of dogs" (as described on Lit Hub.
Brent Foster and Poul Madsen, Nobody deserves this Hell Hole: Jharia's fiery mines (The Globe and Mail, 5-8-09, with a story that multimedia greatly improves)
Jon Franklin. Mrs. Kelly's Monster (Baltimore Sun, 1979) won the first Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. On Nieman Storyboard's Line by Line, Franklin takes us line by line through his narrative classic, a model of pacing and detail and character.
Thomas French, Angels & Demons (this story in the St. Petersburg Times won 1998 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, for his detailed and compassionate narrative portrait of a mother and two daughters slain on a Florida vacation, and the three-year investigation into their murders)
Thomas French, Zoo Story. Life. Death. The Paradox of Freedom. (a special, outstanding nine-part series in the St. Petersburg Times, 12-2-07)
Stephen Fried, Cradle to Grave (Part 1) and Part 2 (Philadelphia Magazine, 1-17-08). In the 1960s, a local couple became the most famous bereaved parents in America, as their infants died one after another. This Philadelphia Magazine investigation revealed the deaths were indeed tragic, but perhaps not unexplainable.
Stephen Friedman. Bret, Unbroken (Runner's World, June 2013--a moving story and a fine example of telling a story in second person). His brain and body shattered in a horrible accident as a young boy, Bret Dunlap thought just being able to hold down a job, keep an apartment, and survive on his own added up to a good enough life. Then he discovered running.
Atul Gawande. The Score: How Childbirth Went Industrial (Annals of Medicine, The New Yorker, 10-9-06)
James Glanz. Alley Fighters (New York Times, 3-30-08). In Shite Slums Victory Must Be Won in the Alleys -- an example of hard news told as first-person explanatory essay
Christopher Goffard. On the run from everything but each other (Los Angeles Times 5-13-09), young love in flight, which Mark Johnson writes about in “Why’s this so good?” (Nieman Storyboard 1-10-12)
Cynthia Gorney. Chicken-Soup Nation (Annals of Publishing, New Yorker, 10-6-03).
David Grann. The Old Man and the Gun (A Reporter at Large, The New Yorker, 1-19-03) Forrest Tucker had a long career robbing banks, and he wasn't willing to retire.
David Grann. The Squid Hunter (A Reporter at Large, The New Yorker, 5-24-04). Can Steve O’Shea capture the sea’s most elusive creature?
David Grann. The Chameleon (Annals of Crime, The New Yorker, 8-11-08). The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin, a thirty-year-old Frenchman who serially impersonated children.
Tom Hallman Jr. The Boy Behind the Mask (The Oregonian, 9-30-00). Received 2001 Pulitzer "for his poignant profile of a disfigured 14-year old boy who elects to have life-threatening surgery in an effort to improve his appearance")
Tom Hallman Jr. Fighting for life on Level 3 (Oregonian, Sept. 21-24, 2003). Hallman takes readers inside the ward where premature babies are tended. To cover this story, he had to first win over the hospital bureaucracy; he then spent nine months "immersion reporting." Wrote judges for a Missouri School of Journalism award for the series: "The reporting is outstanding; the writing is extraordinary. This is journalism at its highest level."
Javier C. Hernández. Common Core, in 9-Year-Old Eyes (New York Times, 6-14-14). Telling a story partly from a child's viewpoint brings the concept of Common Core to life (and makes a good case for it).
Meredith Hindley. When Bram Met Walt (Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nov/Dec 2012). When Bram Stoker (who went on to write Dracula) met Walt Whitman. (Thanks, Barry Yeoman, for pointing this story out.)
Hirji, Zahra. The Mushroom Scammer: Fake Identities, Twisted Science, and a Scheme to Save the World (BuzzFeed News, 5-6-21) Joseph Kelly’s solution to the climate crisis is simple, affordable, and doesn’t require radically changing your life. The real Joseph Kelly is no climate hero. He’s a charismatic but vindictive huckster who has spent more than a decade in a vicious cycle of rebranding himself, using shady business tactics, and threatening people who cross him, including by allegedly using fake aliases. “This guy is not just uninformed — he is ill intentioned.”
Jack Hitt. Radovan Karadzic’s New-Age Adventure (NYTimes Magazine, 7-22-09)
Ann Hull and Sue Carlton. Another wild day in the battle over lap dancing (St. Petersburg Times, 12-3-99). Hull and Carlton bring the courtroom to life by showing the parties involved, on both sides of a controversial local issue.
Flora Johnson. The Intelligence Question (Chicago Reader, 5-16-80) Are black people stupid?
Patrick Radden Keefe. How a Notorious Gangster Was Exposed by His Own Sister (New Yorker, 8-6 and 8-13-18) Astrid Holleeder secretly recorded her brother’s murderous confessions. Will Wim Holleeder exact revenge?
Dan Koeppel, How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive (Popular Mechanics, February 2010), with Nieman Storyboard's commentary on technique.
Koerth-Baker, Maggie, The Complicated Legacy of a Panda Who Was Really Good at Sex (FiveThirtyEight, 11-28-17). Read Maggie Koerth-Baker Explores the Legacy of a Very Prolific Panda (Ed Yong's interview, The Open Notebook, 1-30-18)
Kruse, Michael. Trump's North Carolina Supporters Were Ready to Unload (Politico, 7-18-19) As analyzed in 14 hours from event to post: Delivering narrative with context on deadline (Chip Scanlan, Nieman Storyboard, 8-6-09) Politico Magazine's Michael Kruse leans on tried-and-true storytelling techniques (and a good editor) to deliver "something else" from a news event. A quick-turn news story that is approached with narrative writer's sensibility for scene, detail, character, emotion, pacing and theme. Kruse carries readers to a single Trump campaign rally in a way that asks us to consider it in a larger context.
Michael Kruse, A Brevard woman disappeared, but never left home. How could a woman die a block from the beach, surrounded by her neighbors, and not be found for almost 16 months? Nieman Storyboard commentary: Exhuming a life (the lost history of Kathryn Norris)
Thomas Lake. The Way It Should Be (Sports Illustrated, 6-29-09, the story of an athlete's singular gesture continues to inspire)
Mark Larabee. Clinging to Life—and Whatever Floats (Oregonian, 12-12-07). A dogs-and-human rescue story.
Charlie LeDuff. Frozen in Indifference: Life goes on around body found in vacant warehouse (Detroit News, 1-28-09)
Jacques Leslie. The Last Empire: China's Pollution Problem Goes Global (Mother Jones, 12-10-07) Can the world survive China's headlong rush to emulate the American way of life? Leslie combines first-person narrative with straight essay-style writing in this piece.
Francesca Mari. The Talented Mr. Khater (Texas Monthly, July 2015) When 23-year-old Callie Quinn moved from Texas to Chile, she counted on finding a beautiful country, meaningful work, and interesting friends. She had no idea she’d set off a manhunt for an international con artist.
Norma McCorvey. Norma McCorvey Versus Jane Roe In 1970, a homeless woman pregnant with her third child met with two lawyers at a pizzeria in Dallas. Did it matter, in the end, who Jane Roe really was? Here's an excerpt of McCorvey’s memoir (I Am Roe: My Life, Roe V. Wade, and Freedom of Choice by McCorvey and Andy Meisler) about how she became Jane Roe. Here’s how she felt after realizing that she would not be able to get an abortion, that she was the “martyr,” if you like, so women after her could get safe, legal ones: “All I had, really, was my anger. My old anger at myself and my brand-new anger at these two women. In my anger, I imagined—no, I knew!—that Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee and all their damn friends were so right and smart and socially advantaged that just by thinking about it they could arrange an abortion for themselves, or win a court case, or do anything else they damn pleased."
Ben Montgomery, Waveney Ann Moore, and Edmund D. Fountain For Their Own Good (St. Petersburg Times), a story of abuse at The Florida School for Boys, Florida's home for juvenile delinquents. A Nieman Notable Narrative.
T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. An Unbelievable Story of Rape (Pro Publica and The Marshall Project, 12-16-15) An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That’s where our story begins.
Michael J. Mooney. The Legend of Chris Kyle (D Magazine, 3-18-13). The deadliest sniper in U.S. history performed near miracles on the battlefield. Then he had to come home.
Errol Morris. Did My Brother Invent E-Mail With Tom Van Vleck? (The Opinionator, NY Times commentary, 6-19-11). A fascinating exchange between Errol Morris and Tom Van Vleck about the role Van Vleck and Noel Morris played in starting the Internet (part 1 of 5).
Mary Otto. Hidden Hurt (Washington Post 11-9-08). Volunteer health care workers on a remote medical mission spend three days serving uninsured patients who flock to Appalachia for free medical care)
Sonia Nazario. Enrique's Journey (six-part Los Angeles Times series that won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, for "her touching, exhaustively reported story of a Honduran boy's perilous search for his mother who had migrated to the United States").
Kevin Pang. His Saving Grace (Chicago Tribune). The kitchen became chef Curtis Duffy's escape from a turbulent childhood. How cooking rescued him and exacted a price. ("Cooking provided something lacking in Curtis, he’d later realize: a sense of ownership and control, an illustration of cause and effect. Get your hands in the dough, give a damn about something, and watch results bubbling from the oven 12 minutes later.")
Evan Ratliff. The Mastermind: An Arrogant Way of Killing (Atavist) He was a brilliant programmer and a vicious cartel boss who became a prized U.S. government asset. The Atavist Magazine presents a story of an elusive criminal kingpin, told in weekly installments. Click on "Start with episode 1."
Richard Read. The French Fry Connection (Oregonian, 10-18-98). Following one globe-hopping load of Northwest potatoes reveals a lot about the world economic crisis (winner of 1999 Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting). Brilliant use of narrative to explain economics.
Andrew Rice, The Fall of Niagara Falls. Decades of decay, corruption, and failed get-rich-quick schemes have made the city one of the most intractable disasters in the U.S. Read an interview with Rice about the story on Nieman Storyboard.
Eli Saslow, Life of a salesman: Selling success, when the American dream is downsized (Washington Post, 10-7-12). This story about a Manassas, Va., swimming pool salesman experiencing the unraveling of his decades-long success story during a summer of disappointments received the first place award in the first Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest sponsored by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.
Sarah Schweitzer. The life and times of Strider Wolf (Boston Globe, Nov. 2015 ) He has traveled so far, from near-fatal abuse to here, invisible among Maine’s poorest, in the care of grandparents who have little left to give but love — and just enough of that. Yet somehow Strider is climbing. How high? How far?
Janny Scott. Obama’s Young Mother Abroad, NY Times, 4-24-11, which led to the book A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother
Lara B. Sharp. A Tiny Scar, From Falling (Longreads, 5-21-18) Her efforts to gather information about what happened to her in foster care and as a ward of the state turn up nothing but incorrect records. "Why would anyone who was found guilty of abusing a child have the right to privacy related to the crimes? That doesn’t happen with other crimes."
Michael Shnayerson, Crimes of the Art? (Vanity Fair, December 2010). Eight years after Larry Rivers’s death, Rivers is being accused of child pornography, for filming his adolescent daughters topless. Scnayerson asks whether the artist was shattering taboos or destroying innocence. See also Art or Abuse?, discussion on Nieman Storyboard.
Vicki Smith. Slow Death: What happens to mill towns when industry moves on? (Associated Press, 9-25-06, posted on Nieman StoryBoard)
Christopher Solomon. The Detective of Northern Oddities (Outline Online, 1-4-17) When a creature mysteriously turns up dead in Alaska—be it a sea otter, polar bear, or humpback whale—veterinary pathologist Kathy Burek gets the call. Her necropsies reveal cause of death and causes for concern as climate change frees up new pathogens and other dangers in a vast, thawing north. "An unforgettable portrait of an Alaskan veterinary pathologist at work."~NASW's Science in Society Awards judges
Christopher Solomon. The Boy Who Lived on Edges (Outside Online, 5-33-18) When extreme skier Adam Roberts was killed by an avalanche in the mountains of Washington State, some people wondered if he’d died on purpose. Solomon reconstructs a life in which athletic talent, fearlessness, and mental illness combined to create an unbearable reality. "To survive in such places, Adam no longer had the luxury of a noisy mind. All else had to fall away. For a few minutes the freight trains that banged through his head grew quiet. The silence was a form of freedom."
Peter Stark. Frozen Alive (Outside magazine, 1997) Or listen to the podcast: Frozen Alive: A Survival Story A series of plausible mishaps on a bitterly cold night: a car accident on a lonely road, a broken ski binding that foils a backcountry escape, a disorienting tumble in the snow, and a slow descent into delirious hypothermia...a fascinating, accurate description of our physiological response to extreme cold, deepening listeners’ respect for how the human body metamorphoses when cooled. Brian Kevin's 'Why's This So Good' analysis (Nieman Storyboard, 2-22-18)
James B. Stewart. The Real Heroes Are Dead ( New Yorker, 2-11-02). A love story. The story of Rick Rescorla: immigrant, war hero, husband, and head of security at Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter, occupant of 22 floors in the South Tower.
Will Storr. The Itch Nobody Can Scratch (Matter/Medium, 3-11-14) A new disease is plaguing thousands, but experts are in conflict over its origins—and whether it exists at all. It began the way it so often begins, with an explosion of crawling, itching and biting, his skin suddenly alive, roaring, teeming, inhabited. They say that what people like him are really suffering from is a form of psychosis called delusions of parasitosis, or DOP. Or maybe it was a new disease called Morgellons. Says Dr Anne Louise Oaklander, probably the only neurologist in the world to specialize in itch: “In my experience, Morgellons patients are doing the best they can to make sense of symptoms that are real. These people have been maltreated by the medical establishment. And you’re very welcome to quote me on that. They’re suffering from a chronic itch disorder that’s undiagnosed.” An excerpt from Storr's book The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science.
John Jeremiah Sullivan. The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace. Photos and video by Leslye Davis, production by Tom Giratikanon.
Tim Sullivan. In one small prairie town, two warring visions of America (AP News, 1-27-22) A 2,400-word portrait of a community caught in a neighbor-to-neighbor conflict, the tensions heightened by Anfinson’s accurate reporting about COVID and its impact on America’s heartland. "His neighbor, Jason Wolter, is a thoughtful, broad-shouldered Lutheran pastor who reads widely and measures his words carefully. He also suspects Democrats are using the coronavirus pandemic as a political tool, doubts President Joe Biden was legitimately elected and is certain that COVID-19 vaccines kill people." See Chip Scanlan's piece, Viewing the COVID divide through tensions in one rural community (Nieman Storyboard, 2-8-22)
Gay Talese. Frank Sinatra Has a Cold (Esquire April 1966). "[O]ne of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism -- a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction." And an example of immersion reporting, particularly helpful when the subject refuses to be interviewed.
This American Life (excellent radio narratives in Ira Glass's weekly one-hour show on WBEZ, Chicago, aired nationally through Public Radio International).
Stuart Tomlinson. After Devastating Car Wreck Right Before His Eyes, An Officer Reacts (Oregonian, 10-13-04 -- discussed by Jack Hart in Storycraft as an example of a standard news story presented as narrative nonfiction.
Charles Van Doren. All the Answers. The quiz-show scandals—and the aftermath (New Yorker 7-28-08)
Sarah Viren. The Native Scholar Who Wasn’t (NY Times Magazine,5-25-21) More than a decade ago, a prominent academic was exposed for having faked her Cherokee ancestry. Why has her career continued to thrive? "Academia is an industry, like journalism, that defines itself in large part by its ethical standards; we’re supposed to educate people and produce knowledge. So what does it mean that we’re also a haven for fakes?...these hoaxes, though they reveal a lot about the people who carry them out, also say something about those who fall for them in the first place."
Amy Wallace. What Made This University Researcher Snap? ( Wired, 2-28-11). A University of Alabama scientist gunned down six of her colleagues in 2010. Here's what made Amy Bishop snap. And here is Hazel Becker's fine account (Talking Shop) of a session at the Excellence in Journalism in which Amy Wallace and Mark Robinson, Wired's feature editor, talked about the behind-the-scenes work done to bring the piece to print: "Their presentation was interesting because it exposed the human sides of the two panelists – an accomplished freelancer who was scared to take on the project and an editor who put a lot on the line with his publication to get the story done."
Allison Washington. I. Girl, Begun: Why my mother raised me as a girl. (Athena Talks, Medium.com, 1-23-17). In four parts. A becoming.
Gene Weingarten. The Peekaboo Paradox (WashPost 1-22-06), about the preschool entertainer, The Great Zucchini. Opinions vary on whether this is great or needs editing. Listen to Bob Edwards' radio interview with Weingarten about this story and Weingarten's collection The Fiddler in the Subway: The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts. . . And Other Virtuoso Performances by America's Foremost Feature Writer
Michael Weinreb on the Joe Paterno scandal. Growing Up Penn State (Grantland 11-8-11). The end of idealizing sports heroes at State College.
Mary Wiltenburg. Little Bill Clinton: A School Year in the Life of a New American (award winning series in Christian Science Monitor, 2008-2009). In Atlanta's northeastern suburbs, a refugee community is growing where almost every family is a story of Americans-in-the-making. DeKalb County's seven-year-old International Community School - a charter school - was founded to bring their children together with native-born kids in a community model that welcomes and celebrates student diversity. This school year, the Monitor is exploring this model through the eyes and experiences of Congolese third-grader Bill Clinton Hadam and the ICS community.
Graeme Wood. The Lost Man (The California Sunday Magazine, 6-7-15) In 1948, a man was found on a beach in South Australia. The mysterious circumstances of his death have captivated generations of true-crime fanatics. Today, one amateur sleuth has come close to solving the case — and upended his life in the process.
Five long reads that stand the test of time (Alyssa Rosenberg's picks, as described in the Washington Post, 8-12-15):
---Children of Circumstance by Blake Nelson (the New Yorker, 2-14-94)
---Unspeakable Conversations by Harriet McBryde Johnson (New York Times Magazine 2-16-03)
---The Misfit by Judith Thurman (the New Yorker, 7-4-05)
---Rachel Uchitel Is Not a Madam by Lisa Taddeo (New York Magazine, 4-4-10)
---Among the Settlers by Jeffrey Goldberg (the New Yorker, 5-31-04).
The 7 Greatest Stories in the History of Esquire Magazine... in Full (as chosen by the magazine, 11-14-08, and with the magazine's descriptions):
--- "The School" by C .J. Chivers (June 2006) On the first day of school in 2004, a Chechen terrorist group struck the Russian town of Beslan. Targeting children, they took more than eleven hundred hostages. The attack represented a horrifying innovation in human brutality. Here, an extraordinary accounting of the experience of terror in the age of terrorism.
--- "The Falling Man" by Tom Junod (Sept. 8, 2009) Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.
--- "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" by Richard Ben Cramer (June 1986) Regarded as perhaps the finest piece of sportswriting on record, the furious saga of Teddy Ballgame — from boy to man and near death — is an unmatchable remembrance for an American icon.
--- "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" by Gay Talese (April 1966) "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" ran in April 1966 and became one of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism -- a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.
--- M by John Sack (Esquire, October 1966). Memorable for its famous cover line ("Oh my God--we hit a little girl."), this legendary account of one company of American soldiers in Fort Dix, New Jersey, who trained for war and who found it in South Vietnam fifty days later.
--- "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!" by Tom Wolfe (March 1965) Now one of America's most legendary authors, Tom Wolfe broke out onto the national literary scene at age thirty-four with this breathless piece — an early step in the so-called New Journalism, a first reference for the term "good ol' boy," a deep breath into the future of the New South.
--- "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" by Norman Mailer (November 1960) In November 1960, Norman Mailer first tried his hand at a genre that would come to define his career. This is Mailer's debut into the world of political journalism, a sprawling classic examining John F. Kennedy.