Presentation by Bill Creighton, Dakota Partners
Summary by Kyle Martens, Nebraska Forest Service
A college-educated intern holds a newborn baby in Ghana. How many of us can relate to that experience? Probably not a one, but we can empathize with holding a newborn baby. Whether you’re 10 or going on 200, nearly all of us could describe or summarize such a feeling. This session, through several examples, drew on that connectivity: Every reader/person has perspective.
The session leaders suggested many of us are often guilty of adhering to journalistic standards, overlooking opportunities to connect our readers with the sensory. Taking the story of the med student in Ghana, for example, they correctly pointed out readers did not see the dramatic delivery of the baby until the fifth paragraph. So, what should we do differently?
Even non-fiction writing requires basic story elements. Setting the scene, naming your characters and spelling out the motivations that propel them through the narrative. Similarly, the challenges that writers create are reciprocated by readers through empathy and self-relation. Encompassing all of these into one concept, what we are really talking about is story structure.
Here is another way to view it: cyclical enticement. The story starts as normal, but inevitably something goes awry. The reader is left hanging – enticed to tear through the story to hear about the main character’s resolve. As the plot thickens, an intervention occurs that rights the trajectory of our subjects. This may occur several times until a new normal is achieved. Similarly, the entire process can be repeated, leaving a pattern that enters finality within the narrative.
Some parting thoughts from the session:
- Use strategies that make your characters vivid and identifiable;
- Include generic feelings that anyone can relate to (e.g. scared, loved, etc.);
- Carefully placing critical facts will encourage readers to dive deeper into the storyline; and
- Expound up on the senses – the sights, sounds, smells that connect us to that moment in time.