Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Tips - Telling a Story or Giving a Report?

The difference between "story" and "report" is crucial to the reader's expectation and the writer's execution.

The word "story" has a special meaning, and stories have specific requirements that create predictable effects.

What are the differences between "report" and "story", and how can the writer use them to strategic advantage?

A scholar by the name of Louise Rosenblatt argued at one point that readers read for two reasons:

1. Information
2. Experience

That's the difference.

Reports convey information. Stories create experience.

Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader.

The tools required to create reports and stories differ as well.

Every writer should know about the famous "Five W's and H". They've helped writers gather and convey information with the reader's interest in mind.


They are the most common elements of information.

When used in reports, these pieces of information are fixed in time, fixed so readers can scan and understand.

This is how you "un-fix" them, when you can transform information into narrative:

Who becomes Character
What becomes Action (What happened.)
Where becomes Setting
When becomes Chronology
Why becomes Cause or Motive
How becomes Process (How it happened.)

As the writer, you must figure out whether your project requires the crafting of a report, a story, or some combination of both.

In can be said that stories require rising and falling action, complications, points of insight, and resolutions. As a novelist, you can invent these movements into a story. However, as a reporter or non-fiction writer you must report them.

A narrative requires a story and a storyteller.

An article in a newspaper requires a reporter.

By combining story and report, you, the writer can speak to both our hearts and our heads, creating sympathy and understanding.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Look at the newspaper with the distinction between reports and stories in mind. Look for narrative opportunities missed. Look for bits of stories embedded in reports.
2. Take the same approach to your own work. Look for stories, or at least passages in stories, where you transport the reader to the scene. Search for places in your reports where you might have included story elements.
3. Reread the conversion list for the Five W's and H. Keep it handy the next time you research and write. Use it to transform report elements into the building blocks of a story.
4. The next time you read a novel, look for the ways in which the author weaves information about politics or history or geography into the tapestry of narrative. How can you apply these techniques in your own work?

So, in your next project, are you going to tell a story or give a report?

Writing Resource: Writing Tools - 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

1 comment:

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