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Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) [Hardcover]

by Jack Hart
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 15, 2011 9780226318141 978-0226318141

From the work of the New Journalists in the 1960s, to the New Yorker essays of John McPhee, Susan Orlean, Atul Gawande, and a host of others, to blockbuster book-length narratives such as Mary Roach’s Stiff or Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, narrative nonfiction has come into its own. Yet writers looking for guidance on reporting and writing true stories have had few places to turn for advice. Now in Storycraft, Jack Hart, a former managing editor of the Oregonian who guided several Pulitzer Prize–winning narratives to publication, delivers what will certainly become the definitive guide to the methods and mechanics of crafting narrative nonfiction.

Hart covers what writers in this genre need to know, from understanding story theory and structure, to mastering point of view and such basic elements as scene, action, and character, to drafting, revising, and editing work for publication. Revealing the stories behind the stories, Hart brings readers into the process of developing nonfiction narratives by sharing tips, anecdotes, and recommendations he forged during his decades-long career in journalism. From there, he expands the discussion to other well-known writers to show the broad range of texts, styles, genres, and media to which his advice applies. With examples that draw from magazine essays, book-length nonfiction narratives, documentaries, and radio programs, Storycraft will be an indispensable resource for years to come.

Frequently Bought Together

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) + Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
Price for both: $32.54

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Editorial Reviews


"If you have any interest in trying to craft the kind of narrative nonfiction practiced by the likes of John McPhee, Mary Roach, Tracy Kidder, Susan Orlean and Erik Larson, this is a book for you. . . . It offers any nonfiction writer, and freelancer, concrete ways to think about a topic, visualize the most interesting way of presenting its narrative arc, and organize most effectively the presentation of material."

(Writer 2011-08-01)

“Instructive and essential, reading Storycraft is like finding the secret set of blueprints to the writer's craft. Better still, it is engaging, funny, and wise—wonderful to read and wonderful to learn from.”

(Susan Orlean 2010-12-16)

“Jack Hart was hands-down the best narrative editor ever to work in newspapers.”

(Jon Franklin, author of Writing for Story and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner 2010-10-29)

“When I think back on what I have learned about storytelling over the last 30 years, the trail of memory leads back time and again to Jack Hart. No one has done more to inspire better narrative writing in America.”
(Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools and The Glamour of Grammar 2010-10-28)

“I’d tell you that I am the best writing coach there is—if I didn’t know Jack Hart.”

(Bruce DeSilva, former Associated Press writing coach, author of Rogue Island 2010-10-29)

“In Storycraft, Jack Hart vividly explains a lifetime of valuable lessons in nonfiction narrative. For all the celebrity star power he brings to this book, his introduction makes the topic welcoming and accessible to students and reporters who may be new to the subject. And he practices what he preaches; this book entertains the reader. It’s like listening to Mark Twain on how to tell a story.”

(Norman Sims, University of Massachusetts Amherst)

“The importance of understanding and utilizing established methods of narrative writing is emphasized throughout the book (structure, point of view, voice and style, setting, scene construction, interviewing), but Storycraft transcends typical writers guides through Hart's insights to what story is and how human nature determines the fundamentals of any well-written story. Rather than confine his scope to how to write well, Hart makes a case for why one should write well.”

“Jack Hart's new book is quite remarkable. . . . It's the story of how to succeed. . . . How to make your mind observe, how to put your observations into words, how to turn reporting into vision and words into power. . . . Read it. It speaks for itself.”
(Jon Franklin)

“Despite a career focused on the world of journalism, the author demonstrates much insight into the canon of more "literary" creative nonfiction by choosing sound examples that are both accessible and widely acclaimed. . . . This book can function as both a practical introduction to narrative nonfiction and a concise refresher for professionals.”


“For me, [Hart’s] book's appearance was fruitful timing, not unlike finding a new recipe the morning of a dinner party and realizing all the ingredients are in your pantry. Hart's Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction fortified me. It underscored lessons I thought I'd already mastered, prompting me to think deeper—and talk to my editors more—about the importance of theme."—Nieman Reports

(Nieman Reports)

About the Author

Jack Hart is a former managing editor and writing coach at the Oregonian. He received the first National Teaching Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors and  a University of Wisconsin Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to journalism, has taught on the faculties of six universities, and was named the Ruhl Distinguished Professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. He is the author of A Writer’s Coach.


Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (July 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780226318141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226318141
  • ASIN: 0226318141
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Writing book on Writing Non-Fiction September 15, 2011
I've read many books on writing non-fiction and this trumps them all. Most writing books have so many quotes of "good writing" that the author never says anything other than, "Hey, read this great quote and see how great this writing is."

Here you are given help! The author takes you through plot development, finding and developing characters, how to use quotations, and writes such a compelling non-fiction book that you know he knows how to write non-fiction and is thus highly qualified to write a book about writing non-fiction!

Excellent book and a good read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great detail, broadly applicable - even to nonwriters November 11, 2011
Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) by Jack Hart, the former Oregonian editor and narrative reporting coach covers the topic from a newspaper perspective, but the content applies not only to all creative narrative nonfiction but to many aspects of fiction writing as well. I recommend it to any author who wonders what "show don't tell" really means.

And I'll go even a step further: Storycraft is the perfect book for anyone seeking a better understanding of life. Jack writes, "The world delivers the facts, and nonfiction specialists have to make some sense of them," but all of us have the same longing when we encounter life's inexplicable tragedies, foiled destinies, or even just worrisome little events we witness.

Every life is packed with scenes and stories, as much action as a rousing novel, but with all the boring routine intervening. When we ponder life's climactic moments, we find the context that links our lives with humanity's common attributes. And just like an investigating reporter, we can use the techniques in Storycraft to wring meaning out of reality.

To paraphrase a point Jack makes, the ultimate payoff for Storycraft is when you can follow life's story from its specific unfolding to its underlying cosmic truth and then bring that new abstraction to bear on other specifics in your own and others' lives.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb book for nonfiction writers May 26, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hart's Storycraft is the best how-to for nonfiction writing that I've found--without exception. I own about 200 books on writing, and the two that I always go back to are Hart's Storycraft, and Sol Stein on Writing.

One example: Hart has the best explanation of the importance and use of theme that I've found anywhere. He says, "theme statement suggests your structure. It guides your reporting. It helps you find a title. If you have to cut, it tells you what can go and what must stay. In one way or another, it affects every phase of the writing"

He then goes on to show how he helped writers find the themes of stories that went on to win national writing prizes.

This is a book for people who want to get good at writing exceptional, compelling nonfiction. Hart is a master craftsman. In Storycraft he clearly explains his craft to those who want to learn.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good For New Writers March 24, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Like many new writers I have a story to tell but am struggling on how to make it more than just a chronological rendering. Hart explains structure, point of view, voice and style, character, scene, and other key elements to writing narrative nonfiction. My only criticism is that in the later part of the book he tends to focus on news reporting for examples. The chapter on ethics seems totally focused on news reporting. That said, I highly recommend it if you are struggling to write a narrative nonfiction story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To a lifelong newspaperman--Fascinating! March 1, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Here is a book that should fascinate a writer of any stripe, no matter how his or her work is structured. While Storycraft is about writing narrative nonfiction, it addresses much more than story and structure. In fact many of the elements it covers--character, point of view, scene, action, etc.--can be applied in other types of writing, not to mention fiction. If you're a writer, this book should send you digging through your files to compare your work with the many real-life examples cited here. If you're a beginner, this book should help set you on a path to success. It's an engaging and pleasant read with your own ruminations as its only homework.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide to writing exciting non-fiction February 19, 2012
Jack Hart gets at the nitty-gritty of how to write absorbing non-fiction. He uses outstanding examples and his own explanations are clear and interesting.

He gives the structure for many standard kinds of pieces. For example, for a 1000 word personal essay: 650 words on something highly specific, 150 words going from specific to general and 200 words that are quite abstract. The chapter "Explanatory narratives" was also excellent. It lays bare the structure of John McPhee kinds of nonfiction, where the explanation is interwoven into the story.

I also liked how Hart shares with us the process of writing and figuring out the focus for various stories, both ones he wrote and ones others wrote.

Definitely worth reading for those interested in writing nonfiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb book on nonfiction writing February 10, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book because it provides excellent content and fairly comprehensive coverage on all the key aspects of narrative and explanatory nonfiction writing. In the last part of the book, it makes summary points on a variety of other nonfiction types such as short stories and vignettes, and discusses issues such as reporting and ethics.

Both the book and the author definitely have the ring of authority. According to my Kindle, about 32% of the book is devoted to references and footnotes. I wish they were annotated footnotes, which are often worth reading, but these ones generally contain just the reference (which I'm sure the author thought was important to include).

The writing was very good, as were the examples the author used. There were only a few places (mostly early in the book) where it felt like things were bogging down, or the connection between the body text and the examples was hard to find.

The pace was fine too--it was neither a light nor tedious read, just about right for the subject matter.

If I had to pick a nit, it would be in the (seemingly endless) number of words and sentences in the early part of the book devoted to scrupulously making full references to authors (full names) and their various articles to support one of the author's points. Many times the author would make a point, and basically say, "Joe X was a master at this in whatever, as was X in Y, and W in Z." No examples of writing from these articles were given for the reader, so it bordered on nothing more than name dropping to me.

Having said that, the obvious gravitas and authority of the author made me believe that he was not the sort of person to just name drop for name dropping's sake.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Life raft
I bought this book in desperation - was on deadline and lost in a narrative non-fiction piece that was riddled with fascinating facts and features, many moving pieces, and very... Read more
Published 2 days ago by factumpactum
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, insightful, readable—with excellent examples
This book taught me a great deal about what goes into telling a story well. Who knew story structure had so many variations and required so many decisions? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Marcia R. Johnston
3.0 out of 5 stars Highlighted
The book had yellow highlighting in it. If this was indicated before I bought it I was not aware of it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ronald Larson
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource
Clear, succinct read with valuable information in easy to use format for authors and editors. Examples help application of guidelines.
Published 4 months ago by churchlady
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide for nonfiction writers
This book has two great strengths.
1. It clearly describes a range of technical information about how to craft a good nonfiction story
2. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Rachel Collis
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
I am a student in creative writing nonfiction and it has helped me to get articles pass the instructors. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jim Svoboda
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a bible for non-fiction writers
Used to write small business proposals for Federal contracts. I could have used this book ten years ago. Besides providing guidelines for writing, this is a great read on its own.
Published 6 months ago by Rich Freeman
4.0 out of 5 stars A good tool
This is a good tool for beginning writers to have on their shelves. It is easy to understand and thought provoking.
Published 7 months ago by Jerry
5.0 out of 5 stars Best ever guide for writers
I recommend this book to anyone who is a writer of, or wants to be a writer of, narrative nonfiction. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lionel D. Youst
5.0 out of 5 stars the BEST!
This is the most comprehensive book on writing that I have ever read. Clearly written with humor and explicit examples. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Joanne
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