Monday, August 5, 2013

Tool #35: Report and write for scenes

. . . Then align them In a meaningful sequence.

Today I am featuring another chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

Tom Wolfe argues that realism, in fiction and nonfiction, is built on "scene-by-scene construction, telling the story by moving from scene to scene and resorting as little as possible to sheer historical narrative."  This requires, according to Wolfe's manifesto in The New Journalism, "extraordinary feats of reporting,"so that writers "actually witness the scenes in other people's lives."

     That advice was offered more than forty years ago, but adherence to it still makes eyewitness storytelling seem new.

BAGHDAD, Iraq--On a cold, concrete slab, a mosque caretaker washed the body of 14-year-old Arkan Daif for the last time.

With a cotton swab dipped in water, he ran his hand across Daif's olive corpse, dead for three hours, but still glowing with life.  He blotted the rose red shrapnel wounds on the soft skin of Daif's right arm and right ankle with the poise of practice.  Then he scrubbed his face scabbed with blood, left by a cavity torn in the back of Daif's skull.

The men in the Imam Ali mosque stood somberly waiting to bury a boy who, in the words of his father, was "like a flower."  Haider Kathim, the caretaker, asked: "What's the sins of the children?  What have they done?"

This is the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of Anthony Shadid, covering the war in Iraq for the Washington Post, practicing a form of immersion journalism, getting close to the action, capturing scene after bloody scene.

Using this example for inspiration, Roy suggests strapping on your tool belt, and getting to work in the WORKSHOP:

-Try an exercise created by Tom French.  With a group of friends or students, view an interesting photograph or portrait (French favors Vermeer).  Although these images are static, the writer must place details in an order that the reader can follow.  Write a scene describing each image, then compare your work.

Next week, Tool #36: Mix Narrative Modes. . .combine story forms using the broken line.


  1. I'm meeting with writing friends tonight. Perhaps we'll give this exercise a try. Thanks!


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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel