I liked Anne Hull’s take on editing in Telling True Stories. She said successful editing means you are in a fierce competition with yourself and no one else. I think this couldn’t be truer since in essence you are the only person that can hold your story back from being awesome. I also love the advice she gives about listening to your editor’s critique of your story. She says, “Love the subject, not your rendering of it.” Sometimes you get so invested in a story that you can’t tell what it lacks or needs. If another person who reads it with a fresh perspective gives you advice, you should listen. Your ego isn’t worth ignoring what is most likely good advice that will make your story better.
Chapter 12 of Writing Feature Stories also makes good suggestions about editing. One of my favorite that I have found most useful recently in improving past stories is to edit line by line. Although this is painstaking and takes up a lot of time, I think it’s the best way to take your story to the next level. I was recently revising a story to turn in to be judged for competition, and I found that using this technique vastly improved my story. The main change I found myself repeatedly making by analyzing sentence by sentence was the verbs I was using. When writing a story, it’s often difficult for me to continuously crunch out sensational and appropriate action verbs. But when I’m finished writing the story, it is easier for me to go back and think of better verbs when I look at the context of the sentence.
Chapter 11 of Writing Feature Stories discusses when it is appropriate for a journalist to put him or herself into a story. I think the book puts it very well by suggesting the writer ask himself- will my presence improve the story? I agree with the chapter’s point that good writing is not just choosing the right words, but developing a style. I think the more a person writes, the more that person begins to develop their own style and the more defined the style, the more it adds to the story. I like the quote by Hence White, “To achieve style, begin by affecting none..”
I particularly enjoyed reading the section on voice in Part V of Telling True Stories. I absolutely love Susan Orlean’s juxtaposition of developing a writer’s voice with children’s process of painting. Children are often way more creative at painting than adults are. A child may paint a picture of a pink and purple spotted horse because children have less of a sense of how things should or should not look according to the real world. Orlean said writing is the same; developing a writer’s voice involves getting in touch with that child-like emotional authenticity. I think Orlean is dead on with this point. You can’t invent a voice, so taking a true look at yourself, how you would speak to your friends in everyday conversation or how you would tell a story at the dinner table, will help you discover your own voice as opposed to forcing a voice that you think you should have.
The section I found the most useful in Chapter 9 of Writing Feature Stories was sifting and sorting through raw material. I am the most unorganized mess that ever existed in the journalistic world. Whenever I conduct an interview, I scribble chicken-scratch on the front, back or corner of whatever medium I have handy to write on, which always leads to unnecessary amounts of time sifting through information later. The chapter gives really good advice on how to organize and pick out the important pieces of your notes to cut the time it takes to extract the good information and write the most successful feature story. One of my favorite pieces of advice is to note the themes that emerge as you read back through the notes. Picking out clear themes can help you determine which direction to take your story.
In Part IV of Telling True Stories, Deneen Brown made an interesting point on beginning a feature story. He said to successfully begin a story, the writer must decide what larger meaning the story represents and lead the reader to that. Even though I sometimes struggle with doing that, I completely agree with him. That’s why it is so important to identify major themes before attempting to write a feature. A theme helps you determine what mood you want to set from the very beginning, which is important because that shapes how the entire feature is written.