I first stumbled upon IU early last year when I decided to self publish my novel. I came from a career as a journalist, so the idea of publishing words–or even seeing my name in print– was not foreign. However, publishing a novel is different from writing for a daily, and not necessarily intuitive. In my quest for some practical answers, I found Indies Unlimited.
When at a loss for something new to write about on the art of writing, the ever-encouraging K.S. Brooks suggested to me that I should discuss the art of research for writers. She’s impressed by the fact I’m, apparently, the last person on earth who still goes to a library to do research (lest you think I’m the only one who patronizes the library, I will point out there are many individuals at my local branch – mostly homeless people trying to stay out of the cold or kids with laptops who like the free wifi).
Anyway, I’m not sure how much I have to say about techniques of research when it comes to writing, particularly for those interested in writing fiction. But what I can speak to is how my penchant for thorough research – primarily for my non-fiction writing but also to get certain facts straight in fiction as well – comes from a background in journalism. I think it was the author Tom Wolfe who noted that the best thing any aspiring novelist could do for his craft would be to spend a few years working as a journalist. Wolfe’s belief was that the world, when examined up close through the eyes of a professional observer, held a plethora of interesting stories, individuals and small details which could serve you the rest of your life in creating “fiction” that would ring true. While I’m not recommending anyone become a journalist (unless you’re prepared to make sub-minimum wage) I do think many of the skills one picks up as a reporter of non-fiction events can be transferred over to the realm of fiction writing. Continue reading “Stop the Presses: How Journalism Helps Authors”
Last time, we talked about writing print news stories – the kind you would find in your morning newspaper. Today we’ll talk about how broadcast copy is different, and why.
Write for the ear: I have a confession. While I was writing my fake Sotheby’s story for the last installment, I was wincing. No, actually, it was worse than that. As I typed that hard news lede, every fiber of my being was screaming, “NONONONO! This sentence is too damned LONG!” That’s because, in broadcast news stories, the shorter your sentence is, the better. Keep in mind that someone is supposed to be reading your words aloud. If the sentence is too long, the news anchor will have to pause partway through it and take a breath – and guaranteed, he’ll breathe in the wrong place and screw up the flow. So do yourself a favor and keep your sentences to between ten and 20 words.
It happens sometimes: Your main character needs a vital piece of information that can only come from a third-party source. So you slip it into a newspaper story, or you put it into the mouth of a TV or radio reporter. There’s nothing wrong with that. But please note that writing credible journalistic prose means following some conventions – conventions that you would do well to follow, if you want to keep your journalist readers from howling, or sobbing brokenly, or reaching for the hooch. Or all three.
I worked as a broadcast journalist for 20 years, including a few years at the network level, before I quit the business and got a real job. I’ve distilled that experience into some pointers on how to make news stories in your novel more realistic.