Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fives instances of or about great storytelling

There's been a number of interesting things I've come across on Twitter lately that all fall under the topic of great storytelling. Really, I like to think that most pieces linked to on this blog tell a compelling story, but these five are actually noteworthy because of story.

Additionally of interest to me was the varying form of each, with them being (1) a request for information, (2) letter posted on a wall, (3) website post on newspaper writing that led to another piece and discussion of that writing, (4) newspaper story reported and written quickly and (5) video of a talk about storytelling.

The request for information was titled "Indiana Jones Mystery Package" and posted to the University of Chicago Admissions Office Tumblr page. It's about a package received there that was addressed to fictional archaeology professor and adventurer Henry Walton Jones Jr., otherwise known as Indiana Jones. As the Admissions office posting notes, it's unclear why the package was sent and this lack of context helps make the story even more compelling.

The letter posted to a wall was sent to Edison's, the Manhasset, Long Island bar that under a prior name was the setting for quite a bit of The Tender Bar, the brilliant J.R. Moehringer memoir about growing up to become a writer. Written to Edison's by someone influenced by Moehringer's book and passing on their good wishes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it's simply... a nice story.

The website post on newspaper writing was "Article About Lonely Man Results In Birthday Party" posted by Thomas Lake to the writing site Gangrey. Lake put up a 1972 newspaper piece from The Anniston Star about people rallying on behalf of a stranger and following in the same post was the longer Star piece on Tyko Wilhelm Laine by Frank Denton that led a party being thrown for Lane. Additionally, the post on Gangrey then featured commentary from Denton about writing that piece some 40 years ago and the larger idea of working to produce great newspaper stories.

The newspaper piece written on deadline was "Are You John Lennon?" by Jimmy Breslin for the New York Daily News and copied a few years back to a blog called Ralrika. It's ridiculously good writing from Breslin that very much fits into the idea of going beyond simply reporting what happened to telling a compelling story. Making the piece even more amazing is the last three paragraphs tagged onto the end, with  Breslin noting being in bed at 11:20, getting word of Lennon being shot, going out and reporting, writing and filing the piece by 1:30 in the morning.

Final thing to note on the topic of story is what both provided the idea of writing this post and serves as almost an umbrella for the story concept attributed to the above pieces. Tampa Bay Times newspaper writer Michael Kruse gave a TEDx talk about stories that included a number of interesting points, but three that stood out for me. The first related to the Breslin piece in that Kruse talks about how newspapers should be about stories not articles, the second how if something introduced in a story, it has to be played out and third had to do with the work that goes into producing stories. An acclaimed Times feature from Kruse was "A Brevard woman disappeared, but never left home" about Cape Canaveral resident Katherine Norris who died in her home and was found there 16 months later. Kruse in his TEDx speech talks about having set out to create a story of her life and the amount of work he put into reporting to gather information before actually writing. It was solid stuff that showed how lyrical prose oft needs to be proceeded by meticulous research.