Thursday, June 06, 2013

Writing Wisdom - by Vonnegut, Tomlinson, Stout & Richmond on Hersey

Prattling on about writing and linking to established writers doing so is one of my favorite things to do on this blog and over the past few weeks I've seen (three of them via Tommy Tomlinson) a few different excellent pieces on writing.

From the Nieman Storyboard site was "Professor Hersey: one student, the iconic author of ‘Hiroshima,’ and 6 timeless takeaways" by Peter Richmond on his former professor John Hersey, acclaimed writer of the non-fiction story Hiroshima, published first as the entire contents of an August 1946 New Yorker issue and then in book form. There's a lot of remembrances from Richmond on writing wisdom passed down by Hersey and what stood out in particular to me were the dual ideas of the writer letting a story speak for itself and Hersey telling his students that writing more of a craft than art form.

The second and third pieces to note here on the subject of writing were both from the personal blog of current Sports on Earth and former Charlotte Observer writer Tommy Tomlinson. On May 23rd he posted "Everything you need to know about storytelling in five minutes" and then "Story shapes (and exercise tips?) from Kurt Vonnegut" on June 3rd.

The "storytelling in five minutes" piece was from a speech Tomlinson gave in Charlotte and has some very straightforward, logical and cool about what makes story good. To summarize, Tomlinson talks about a successful story featuring (1) a sympathetic character, (2) a hurdle to overcome and (3) the payoff delivered if hurdle overcome. Additionally, he notes the importance of a good story containing both initial and then deeper level meaning that can be taken from a story.

The "story shapes" post is comprised almost entirely of a YouTube video embedded that features Kurt Vonnegut giving an extremely short lecture on writing. Vonnegut talks about good stories containing universal story arcs and themes (i.e. main character has a good thing going, that thing becomes in jeopardy, then gets saved) that can actually be plotted out on an X/Y axis. Vonnegut gave an entertaining lecture on an interesting notion that seemed as if it could fall under this umbrella of story as craft and a writer as skilled tradesman.

The last piece to mention here was "On the line with Glenn Stout", a phone interview conducted by Anthony Palmer and Pete Barrett on The Creators Call, an audio series hosted on SoundCloud. The audio is 25 minutes long and while all of it interesting, below is what stood out the most to me...

Identifying good writing - Stout noted how he looks for stories where the writer is confident and committed from the beginning of the piece. The story just starts because the writer knows where they are and where they want to go. The reader should know the story, know the characters and know the voice of the writer.

The importance of reporting - Stout makes the point that the best writing comes from the best reporting and mentions how author David Halberstam would say that if someone doesn't know what to write in a piece, they haven't done enough reporting on it. Writers know when they're just going from point A to point B in a story because they have to get there, but don't have the details needed and that are provided thorough reporting.

Becoming a writer - Stout referenced his August 2012 personal blog post "How I became a writer: a true story" and how everyone he knew who wanted to be a writer and kept at it, is a writer. Just because it hasn't worked out yet is no reason to stop.

Writing a book - Covered in the interview by Stout was how great it is to immerse yourself into a subject over the course of a few years to write a book. Similar to the smaller process of reading something great, a writer can basically lose themselves in the reporting and writing process of a book.