Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard Universityby Mark Kramer
The country’s most prominent journalists and nonfiction authors gather each year at Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism. Telling True Stories presents their best advice—covering everything from finding a good topic, to structuring/i>/b>
Inspiring stories and practical advice from America’s most respected journalists
The country’s most prominent journalists and nonfiction authors gather each year at Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism. Telling True Stories presents their best advice—covering everything from finding a good topic, to structuring narrative stories, to writing and selling your first book. More than fifty well-known writers offer their most powerful tips, including:
• Tom Wolfe on the emotional core of the story
• Gay Talese on writing about private lives
• Malcolm Gladwell on the limits of profiles
• Nora Ephron on narrative writing and screenwriters
• Alma Guillermoprieto on telling the story and telling the truth
• Dozens of Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists from the Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and more . . .
The essays contain important counsel for new and career journalists, as well as for freelance writers, radio producers, and memoirists. Packed with refreshingly candid and insightful recommendations, Telling True Stories will show anyone fascinated by the art of writing nonfiction how to bring people, scenes, and ideas to life on the page.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“Tips spill from every chapter of the book… Every page—and I mean every page—contains important wisdom for every journalist. Telling True Stories is the relatively rare guide that offers value to veteran journalists, to novices, to investigative journalists and to beat reporters.—Steve Weinberg, The IRE Journal
“A virtuoso collection of essays by writers on writing non-fiction; these remarkable insights into the craft were collected at Harvard University and includes selections from such notable veteran scribes as Tom Wolfe, Tracy Kidder, Susan Orlean, David Halberstam, Nora Ephron and Malcolm Gladwell.”—The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Practical advice for writers on how to get published, write a memoir, and more.”—Boston Magazine
“Provides advice from 51 nonfiction writers, including notables Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, and Nora Ephron… Writers coming to this book should not expect one clear-cut path for producing strong nonfiction; instead, the book provides pointed but wide-ranging advice on writing-a good illustration of the creativity behind nonfiction and the individuality of the writing process. There is enough variety for almost any nonfiction writer to find inspiration and guidance. Topics include interviewing techniques, storytelling, using tape recorders and notebooks, developing characters and scenes, and editing. The section titled ‘Building a Career in Magazines and Books’ will especially help new writers.”—Library Journal
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Mark Kramer was writer-in-residence in the American Studies Program at Smith College (1980-1990), writer-in-residence and a professor of journalism at Boston University (1990-2001), and writer-in-residence and founding director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University (2001-2007). He's written for the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, The Atlantic Monthly, and many other periodicals. He's co-author of two leading textbook/readers on narrative nonfiction: Telling True Stories and Literary Journalism. He's written four additional books: Mother Walter and the Pig Tragedy, Three Farms, Invasive Procedures, and Travels with a Hungry Bear. He's currently at work on a book about writing narrative nonfiction. His website is www.tellingtruestories.com.
Wendy Call is author of No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy, winner of the 2011 Grub Street National Book Prize for Nonfiction. She co-edited Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide. Wendy has served as Writer in Residence at 20 institutions, five national parks, four universities, a public hospital, and a historical archive. She writes and edits nonfiction, translates Mexican poetry and short fiction, and works as a teacher at Richard Hugo House and Goddard College. Before turning to full-time word-working in 2000, she devoted a decade to work for social change organizations in Boston and Seattle. The daughter of a middle-school math teacher and a career Navy officer from Michigan, Wendy grew up on and around military bases in Florida, Pennsylvania, southern California, and southern Maryland. She lives and works in Seattle.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I am a working journalist and think this is a superb book. I keep wanting to send quotes from it to all my journalist friends. Reading it is sometimes affirming, often provocative, and occasionally frustrating (if only my editors would let me work this way!). I learned somethig new from each essay and often felt like jumping up from my seat and shouting yes, Yes, YES, that's just what the writing experience is all about.
If you like a good story, love a great story, and hope to consistently write both, then you should read this book -- and then re-read it. In 91 brief yet insightful essays, a collection of 51 talented authors, editors, reporters, radio producers, photographers - and, yes, a literary agent, screenwriter, and documentarian - distill invaluable advice on writing (and selling!) nonfiction. The contributors walk you through the process of telling a great story - from idea to polished piece (essay, article, book, documentary) - and all with a dose of good advice, realism, and wit. If you are interested in journalism, put this gem on your shelf beside Boynton's 'New New Journalism.' If you're interested in writing, squeeze it between Strunk and White's trusty little volume and Zinnser's 'On Writing Well.' And, with most essays at around 1,000 words, it's a manageable way to read many wise and delightful voices, from Susan Orlean to Tom Wolfe to Tracy Kidder to Gay Talese. You can't beat this: a guide to writing with advice from only people who truly know and continually produce great writing. If you want to write nonfiction - or, if you are a veteran writer trying to refresh your voice - then this is the book for you.
Telling True Stories is a must-read for anyone who communicates ideas through writing. It motivates a journalist amidst grueling tasks to strive for a higher standard. It's true to its name.
Offering advice from 51 writers of narrative nonfiction, reading this little volume is like taking a master class from the greats. Writers like Gay Talese, Malcolm Gladwell, and Susan Orlean share what they've learned over the course of their careers, providing sharp insights and specific examples. It covers everything from artful interviewing, to story structure, to working with editors, to ethics. Having said that, many of the writers advocated for (or simply assumed) months-long immersion in research for a single story. As I was reading, I couldn't help but wonder how relevant that advice will continue to be, given the industry's ever-slimming budgets and declining word counts. Still, the best book I've read on the craft of writing.
All serious writers must have this book. It's a collection of articles from top journalists, editors, radio producers, and memoirists. The main sections include Narrative and Picking a Topic, Researching and Reporting, Subgenre, Story Structure, Quality Work, Ethics, Editing and Revising, Narrative in News, and Careers. Some articles are better than others. Still, I thought a majority of them were effective, including the following: Stories Matter, The Psychological Interview, The Ladder of Abstraction, Travel Writing, To Begin the Beginning, A Story Structure, Summary Versus Dramatic Narrative, Endings, Character, Setting the Scene, Handling Time, On Voice, The Ethics of Attribution, On Style, and Serial Narratives. I could've listed many more effective articles, but I think you get the point. I highly recommend this book. It's geared toward creative nonfiction narrative, but it applies to fiction narrative as well. Buy it. You will not be disappointed.
Want to write true stories that will still be readable five, 10, 20, 50 years from now? Ever talk to someone who told you something that touched your heart, whether it's an experience they had or just a good yarn that you'll think about long after the conversation's over? These are the kinds of stories this book will show you how to write. The authors won't tell you exactly. That's a path you'll have to find out for yourself. But they'll give you guides, practical tips to learn how to talk and write like you're having a conversation with a reader who wants to know more about your story. I remember reading a version of these essays on the Nieman Narrative Digest, which is home to many newspaper examples of this kind of writing. The essays in this book are shorter, easier to read and cover lots of ground: newspapers, magazines, books and radio. As a working journalist for a mid-sized newspaper in Southwest Virginia, I've read countless of books discussing the techniques of narrative writing. This one ranks high above them. Many of the authors break down the elements of telling good stories. For example, listen to Susan Orlean talk about having voice in your stories: 'You can't invent a voice. And you can't imitate someone else's voice, though trying to can be a good exercise. It can lead you to begin to understand the mechanisms that convey the voice. Read your stories out loud so you can hear how you tell stories. As you read, ask yourself: Does it sound real? Would I have said it that way?' The editors of the book offer nice introductions to each section and tell you who you'll be reading in the next few pages. It reminds me of a book by Stanley Cavell called 'Cities of Words,' which is presented as a series of lectures in a classroom. The way this book is put together is similar. It reads like you're in class waiting for a lecture from folks such as Tom Wolfe, Susan Orlean, Tracy Kidder and others. There is no shortage of ideas, approaches to reporting and writing stories and you can't help but think how you would have tackled a famed writer's story if you were in their position. (Probably, not very well. But better, I'm assuming, than those who don't read this book.) Writing true stories is not the easiest way to spend your time. It can get very frustrating and confusing. That's why this book is important. It has given me a new perspective on how to approach these kinds of stories and that's why I recommend it.