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on April 1, 1999
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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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. Once the reader understands the assumptions, the formula becomes a useful tool in the hand of the writer, not some abstract theory laid to rust in a forgotten corner of the mind.
Once the reader is hooked, Franklin introduces the outline. More than a butt muscle twitches here; the reader squirms as visions of that Roman numerated nemesis of junior high come to mind. But this is not what Franklin has in mind. Franklin talks of a simple three-word, five-sentence form called the conflict-resolution outline. Character-action verb-direct object, what could be simpler? Diving in and writing first and thinking later, but this would be less productive in the long run.
The conflict-resolution outline forces the writer to think though the elements of good story first and make sure these elements are present before the writing begins. This method means survival for a journalist faced with a deadline. This method insures a more satisfying and successful writing experience for any writer.
Franklin teaches the 'work smarter, not harder' principles of current business practice. The importance of this to writers can not be understated. Ultimately, all writing is business if one wants to be a successful writer. The writer must produce a good product that sells itself to the editor and in turn, the reader; otherwise the writer will be unpaid. In this book, Franklin earned his pay.
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VINE VOICEon September 8, 2000
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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on May 7, 2005
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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on February 16, 2000
This book is an excellent dissection of the resolution/conflict story form. It is clear, analytical, and well--well, it's well organized, as I guess you'd expect from a structure guide.
Not that conflict/resolution form is an innovative idea. The manual's virtue is that the author carves up the trusty model, showing you its guts and the tendons that hold it together.
In that sense, I found it very sound and helpful. I disagree, however, with his dismissing of the power of phrase and sound and lyric. "What the reader wants is story," he says. But a story written in clanky prose has an ending I won't take the time to discover. The drive for suspense, suspense, relief! can captivate the reader of pop fiction, but not always the thinker. Give us word magic---plus plot--and we'll take the trip.
Using sound and lyric and dead-on description pulls the reader along. Read the visual and musical prose of Don Delillo or TC Boyle. The language is reason enough to read the novels. But mastering lyric and eye takes talent, not a schematic.
The author also dismisses "conflicts without resolutions" in newspaper writing. Well, we wouldn't well have news then. Elections, mysterious plane crashes, murders...these things are not resolved. They belong in the paper because we need to know now. Those stories are not art; they are public service.
The well-worn conflict-resolution form Franklin champions is a winner. But it's not the only one, even in fiction. Simple character studies and elaborate, multi-plot works can deviate from this simple model for differing reasons. They are still valid, just as Haiku is still poetry.
I'd advise the reporter and writer searching for principles of sound narrative structure to read this book. No question. But take the guide's "this way or the highway" mandates as laws governing one literary domain.
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on June 18, 2000
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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on August 11, 2006
After several tries with other well-reputed books, this is the first that has truly conveyed to me a clear understanding of how to write for story. Indeed, when I read this for the first time, I found it difficult at times to focus on Franklin's words, finding myself pulled away by story ideas crystalizing for me as never before.

It may be that my technical background renders his methodical approach, liberally sprinkled with engaging anecdote and warm humor, particularly transparent and memorable, when the words of others yielded little real insight.

If you seek understanding of - a solid 'feel' to - an approach to storytelling that facilitates the construction of engaging and memorable tales, then this book might work as well for you as it does for me. If, though, you view organized thought as antithetical to creativity, then you might not find this work so appealing.
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on October 21, 2003
As a two-time pulitzer winner, Jon Franklin tries to elaborate how he was able to convert a newspaper story into a fiction and win a pulitzer for it. This sounding pretty interesting, I started this book and learnt something indeed.
The author presents two characteristic stories, explains in detail the methodology he takes in writing stories and applies them perfectly to make us understand.
The methods and the dissection of a story are wise and stories are interesting. Well Worth a read if you intend to make your write up interesting.
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on May 12, 2000
This is the best book I've ever read on the subject of structure and craft. I read it several years ago and am still using ideas I gained from it. I don't really think that anybody can learn to write from reading a book on writing, but I do believe that those, like me, who write for a living day after day need the wisdom and inspiration of really fine writers like Jon Franklin. The annotated text for his feature story on brain surgery is worth a college course.
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on May 2, 2006
This is an atypical book on writing, which focuses on something that man has been doing since language was invented -- telling engaging stories. The concepts are simple and powerful, but the application of them is not! I found that this book has helped me to improve my writing and appreciate other people's writing. Jon Franklin is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who honed his skills in the writing trenches rather than in a classroom. At times, what he has to say is bitter medicine, but reading your finished product will be worth the effort.

I at times found Jon Franklin's tone a bit offensive. Sometimes, he came across as a "know it all" or that his way was the only way. In other words, he seemed a bit rigid and perhaps even arrogant. However, the advice is sound and I must admit that after trying the techniques, I can see why he encourages (pushes!) so hard for the writing principles he obviously believes in and that have made him very successful.
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