Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction (Reference) Reprint Edition

51 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0452272958
ISBN-10: 0452272955
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Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction (Reference) + 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
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

One of Ludwig Miës van der Rohe's favorite aphorisms was that "God is in the details." Jon Franklin would beg to differ. A pretty turn of phrase is no use at all, says he, if you don't have a firm structure on which to hang it. Franklin pioneered the field of creative nonfiction by applying fiction's classical complication-resolution form to standard nonfiction (specifically to news stories, most of which, he states, are generally "endings without beginnings attached"). Instead of focusing on style, grammar, and word use, as do many books on writing, Writing for Story provides a rigorous lesson in building a nonfiction story (short or long) that has structural integrity. Franklin advocates starting with an outline, writing the climax first, and engaging in other grueling tasks that seem like hard work because they are.


"All in all, an impressive introduction to a difficult subject, done with disarming candor. Franklin provides concise, no-nonsense tips … in a lively, easy-to-follow style that's refreshingly free from the usual 'creative writing' jargon. It's a technique that beginning journalists, and even those more experienced, will find especially helpful and revealing. Franklin knows what he's talking about and shares his knowledge with admirable generosity."
Kirkus Reviews

"Learning to write the short story, always a challenge for budding fiction writers, is for Franklin … the royal road to success in feature writing today, Thoroughly and methodically, he shows aspiring journalists how to 'nail down' the operative elements of a story—complication/resolution, flashback, foreshadowing, and pace—and, through close analysis of two of his prize-winning features, what to do and in what order to do it … a sound, fertile book, recommended for attaining effective writing skills."
Library Journal


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Product Details

  • Series: Reference
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (September 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452272955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452272958
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Two-time Pulitzer prize winning author Jon Franklin takes his readers into places they've never been. A pioneer in the narrative nonfiction movement -- nonfiction that reads as easily as if it were fiction -- Franklin is known for his easy style. His stories and books will allow you to climb Kitt Peak to peer through one of the world's most powerful telescopes, watch over the shoulders of brain surgeons as they save a patient's life, travel back in time to uncover the secrets of our own behavioral evolution. All this, without leaving the comfort of your easy chair.

Check out his blog and some of his most powerful stories at www.jonfranklin.com

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
Franklin does what may be the best job anywhere of inviting a reader to "get inside a writer's mind." And if you're going to get so intimate with the mental gyrations of an author, why not a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner? Here you will find both award-winning stories, in their "natural state" as well as heavily annotated versions as appendices. But you will also find page after page of sound advice on how to structure, pace, and otherwise "craft" a piece of non-fiction so it has dramatic appeal. While it may seem a bit of a formulaic approach, Franklin offers persuasive rationale for every writing step he outlines. I would highly recommend this book for fiction writers as well as those who are interested in journalistic challenges. While the "inspiration" books, such as Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" and Lamotte's "Bird by Bird" are certainly vital for fueling imagination and motivation, Franklin's "Writing for Story" is the necessary complimentary work for putting all those creative forces into an effective structure. Should be a standard reference book for every aspiring (and experienced) author!
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87 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Gloria E. Salavarria (skaggs@michiana.org) on October 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
How to Write books are irresistible to the novice writer: 'Read me and I'll tell you what you need to know to be famous, or at least published.' At first the reader is thrilled when he or she recognizes a kindred spirit in the author, then the reader tries to apply what he or she learned. More often than not the lessons of the book are little more than a collection of the author's war stories. The novice writer suspects that writing is an art form, not subject to the laws of physics. Jon Franklin says: 'No, good short stories have form, structure and behavior patterns that can be analyzed.'
The workaday world of journalism, not academia, honed Franklin's skills. He served his apprenticeship under a quintessential irascible old editor, G. Vern Blasdell. The young Franklin learned his craft by squirming in his seat while awaiting the old man's verdict. Now it's his turn to teach but he's at a disadvantage Blasdell never faced. The reader doesn't work for him and won't oblige by twitching so much as one butt muscle. Franklin must win the reader's attention by the pure utility of his method.
Unlike most writers, Franklin has something in common with good mathematicians. He realizes that a formula can be memorized but if one doesn't understand the assumptions on which the formula is derived, one can never apply the formula successfully. This is as true in writing as it is in mathematics.
Franklin builds his case for formula carefully. He demonstrates the nature of each assumption-a complication must be significant to the human condition; if you can't see the complication, look for the action and work your way back to the motivation, etc.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Cathleen M. Walker VINE VOICE on September 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book makes it very clear that good writing is no accident. Now I understand the difference between writing that is clear and readable and writing that is not. Too much work? I think not. I like to read writing I don't have to decipher to try to figure out what the writer meant, and I would rather not have my own writing misinterpreted. Jon Franklin makes it very clear how a writer can make that difference with a little bit...okay, a lot...of effort. Effort that can only pay off in true communication between the author and his/her reader...and isn't that what it's all about?
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beattie on May 7, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This wonderful book changed my writing life. I wish that I could say that I have lived up to Jon Franklin's writing advice, but at best I have aspired to live up to the advice Jon Franklin shares in WRITING FOR STORY. I first read this is 1988 and have periodically re-read it since then. For nonfiction feature writers, this book is on a par with Strunk & White. Highly recommended.

While I was in the middle of writing "NIGHTMARE IN WICHITA: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler" I re-read WRITING FOR STORY. Perhaps I followed Franklin's advice to an adequate degree because in 2005 my book placed as high as number 4 on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list (for paperback nonfiction).

The criticsms of the negative reviewers appear to me to have little or no merit. In my experience, successful writers treat this book as gold. Writers of kindred spirit can read WRITING FOR STORY for pure enjoyment, often nodding one's head in recognition of similar experience.

If, besides WRITING FOR STORY, you are looking for an additional book on writing feature stories, I recommend FOLLOW THE STORY by James B. Stewart.

If you are ready to go beyond feature writing, Franklin's SHOCK-TRAUMA is a living example of how to write a book-length nonfiction narrative following the feature-writing advice in WRITING FOR STORY.

Bravo, Jon Franklin, and thank you.

Robert Beattie

Wichita, Kansas
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be as enjoyable to read as it was helpful in developing my craft. As a profesional journalist, I frequently write feature stories. The advice and lessons presented in this book have helped me add depth and life to those stories. Franklin teaches outlining in a way that makes complete sense. I used to fear the "English Teacher's Revenge," but now find outlines to be most helpful and easier than ever to create and use. The book reads more like a novel than a "how-to" book. The book is written in a friendly and approachable manner. Franklin draws in his reader and treats him or her as a confidant. Truly a must read for beginners and old hands alike.
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Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction (Reference)
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