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Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University

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Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University Cover

ISBN13: 9780452287556
ISBN10: 0452287553
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JoyTipping, January 3, 2008 (view all comments by JoyTipping)
From my review in the January 2008 newsletter of the American Society of Journalists and Authors:

In nearly 100 short essays, this book offers an unbelievable wealth of excellent advice and information, from 51 contributors such as Tom Wolfe, David Halberstam, Susan Orlean, Tracy Kidder, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and Gay Talese. It's like attending a "who's who" conference on nonfiction writing, all for the price of a trade paperback. The book is helpfully divided into categories; you don't have to read the whole thing (although you'll be a better writer, guaranteed, if you do). Categories include finding topics, settling on your sub-genre, structure, building quality into your work, ethics, editing, narrative in news and building a career in magazines and books. The best parts of the book are the tidbits of insight dispersed by pros who have had decades of experience to figure out what makes them so good at their jobs. Gay Talese talks about his decision to spend more time "with people who were not necessarily newsworthy . . . that the role of the nonfiction writer should be with private people whose lives represent a larger significance." Katherine Boo reveals that she finds her stories "because I never learned to drive. . . . I take the bus. I walk around. By being out there -- not the driver of my story but the literal and figurative rider -- I have the opportunity to see things that I would never otherwise see." S. Mitra Kalita offers the startling -- but obvious on contemplation -- observation from her colleague Mirta Ojito at The New York Times, that "the more you know, the less they tell you." This is a book you'll speed through and quote to your friends, read over and over, and find new insights on each pass through.

I have a system when I'm reviewing books of putting Post-It notes on the edges of pages that seem especially cogent, well-written, etc. I usually have 8 or 10 Post-Its on a book that's finished, but on this one, I had so many it looked like the book had sprouted its own little line of prayer flags!
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taxel, June 1, 2007 (view all comments by taxel)
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.
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(8 of 16 readers found this comment helpful)
run19ec, March 5, 2007 (view all comments by run19ec)
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.

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.
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bookchapters, February 26, 2007 (view all comments by bookchapters)
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, this book is a must -- put it on your shelf beside Boynton's "New New Journalism" -- and if you're interested in writing, it's also mandatory -- squeeze it between Strunk and White's trusty little volume and Zinnser's "On Writing Well." And, with most essays clocking in at around 1,000 words, it's a manageable and delightful way to read so many wise voices, everyone from Susan Orlean to Tom Wolfe to Tracy Kidder to Nora Ephron to Gay Talese to Malcolm Gladwell to Ted Conover to Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

This is a guide to writing written by people who truly know and continually produce great writing. If you love to read and hope to write nonfiction - or, if you are a veteran writer waning to refresh your voice - then this is the book for you. I've been dipping into it ever since I read it a few weeks ago, and expect to be doing so for a very long time.
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(4 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780452287556
Author:
Kramer, Mark
Publisher:
Plume Books
Editor:
Call, Wendy
Author:
Maran, Meredith
Author:
Call, Wendy
Subject:
Writing Skills
Subject:
Composition & Creative Writing - Nonfiction
Subject:
Composition & Creative Writing - General
Subject:
Composition & Creative Writing
Subject:
Reference-Writing Nonfiction
Subject:
Reference/Writing
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20070231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
7.98x5.36x.73 in. .63 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects


History and Social Science » Journalism » General
Reference » Writing » General
Reference » Writing » Nonfiction

Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$17.00 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Plume Books - English 9780452287556 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
Twenty of America's bestselling authors share tricks, tips, and secrets of the successful writing life.

Anyone who's ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write, twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation.

Contributing authors include:

Isabel Allende

David Baldacci

Jennifer Egan

James Frey

Sue Grafton

Sara Gruen

Kathryn Harrison

Gish Jen

Sebastian Junger

Mary Karr

Michael Lewis

Armistead Maupin

Terry McMillan

Rick Moody

Walter Mosley

Susan Orlean

Ann Patchett

Jodi Picoult

Jane Smiley

Meg Wolitzer

"Synopsis" by ,
Twenty of America's bestselling authors share tricks, tips, and secrets of the successful writing life.

Anyone who's ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write, twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation.

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