Writing for Story: The Secret Sauce of Compelling Narratives

Entrance to Robert Mondavi WineryWhen I conduct an interview, I never know exactly what I’ll find. Yes, I may have researched the person’s life in detail, perhaps even read their books, but I won’t know exactly what I’m looking for until I conduct the interview itself.

When I sat down with the winemaker Robert Mondavi, I sought to steer the conversation towards good stories. Mondavi, a saavy marketing man, sought to give me the standard PR pitch about his winery, which was interesting, but lacked the drama of a true story. By focusing on the moments of his life that made for good stories–his differences with his brother Peter, early problems with money, and the challenge of taking his business public-I made the profile of him much more intriguing than the PR version of his life.

But to do this, I had to know what I was looking for. Stalking the true short story requires that you understand the patterns of a story and then seek to find them in your subject. In Writing for Story, Jon Franklin defines story as the following:

A story consists of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he confronts and solves.
Franklin’s definition sounds simple, but it contains the essence of a memorable nonfiction story. Writing is an art, and to succeed at it, you to need to use the artifice and elements of storytelling to enhance your work.

Let’s break down the definition. A sequence of actions. Stories are based on chronology, one of the oldest and most effective ways of organizing a narrative. They are part of a sequence; they are related to each other, not strung together willy-nilly.

Action brings readers into a story more quickly than any other technique. Vivid actions get things moving quickly. Hook the reader with your opening action and then save most of the background and description for when the story is underway.

These actions should lead to reactions, reflections on the action by the main character in the story. This focus on action will provide pulse and momentum. By including both exterior action and interior reflection on it, you’ll have a story that will succeed on two levels. Not only will readers be impelled by the action, they’ll learn something from the person’s reflections and be changed by them.

In every good story, a reader starts in one place and ends up in another place, changed and enlightened in some way.

For a more in-depth look at storytelling, Seattle writing classes and online classes that will help you acheive this in your own work, please take a look at my website, www.thewritersworkshop.net.