Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where's the Beef? The Reporter Shows the Writer the Meat of the Story

by Brandy Dolce 

After college, I accepted a news reporter position at a large New Jersey newspaper. It took a while, but I learned to be less flowery when reporting on a robbery and tax evasion. As a news reporter, I’d get my story from cops, townspeople, politicians, educators and victims. I wrote in perfect sequence, describing the event and than dotting the rest of the story with “voices” or quotes from the people involved. A reporter must remain unbiased. I admit it was very difficult for me to do so. I am human after all.  I’d get so…emotional.
Hey, Fiction Writer. You’re staring at this white screen like it’s a barren wasteland.  Yeah, I know it’s intimidating. But does this lonely glacier have the potential for life? Hell, yes!
You have a story idea, but what’s the meat of it? How can you make it sizzle? Ah, this is so different from your reporter days when stories just fell into your lap, huh?

Remember that pizza-eating contest on the boardwalk in Jersey in August? Disgusting greasy fingers picking at 12 picnic table’s worth of cheesy entrails. Some sights just never leave you.

So you have the crust of your story but you’re missing the guts - the good stuff. Think about what made your news stories pop, the aspect of those stories you were always attracted to. Emotion! And you’d get that emotion from the people you interviewed on a daily basis. The voices of others were always the beating heart of your stories.

A fiction writer must use the same techniques as a reporter. You need to find those voices. You’re a one-girl act in an eight-character play now. You GET to be ALL of these people. Lucky!

How amazing is that? As a reporter you got to be no one. You were a cold fiber optic channel through which information flowed unfettered and untouched. You found joy in telling someone else’s story, but now you get to tell your own and in any way you see fit.

Remember the man you reported on who created art from forks and spoons? He shared his life with you, his inner desire to create something beautiful from nothing. Remember how he died two days after his story came out? His wife called and told you how he was so proud of being in the newspaper - that it was one of the best things to ever happen to him. You tearfully mumbled your condolences while sitting at your desk staring numbly at a mountain of notebooks and files filled with just-the-facts as the newsroom bustled around you.  Your editor said no to a follow-up story.  Well, now’s your chance.

A fiction writer gets to see through her characters’ eyes; Listen to their private desires; Feel what they feel. In sadness, she digs deep and touches the cold rock of despair. In triumph, she soars up, up, up and wraps her arms around the stars.

She’s a creator and cleric. 
A mother and daughter. 
A sister and friend. 
A hero and villain. 
A lover and enemy.

She is one of the fortunate few who is privileged (and afflicted) with the ability to see through the eyes of EVERYONE.  Schizophrenics unite!

She has a responsibility to have fun with the journey, to appreciate the gift of those torturous moments that plague her at 1:30 in the morning when she feels she can’t write anymore, and looking for one last boost of energy she finds cat hair floating in her cup of coffee. So she picks it out, wipes it on her sweats, sips and writes.

So where’s your story, girl? It’s in the singular blending of emotion you share with your characters, that feeling that flows from your fingertips onto the cursed white screen.

And maybe the most elegant thing the world will never see will be the beautiful instant where you write vice and victory so perfectly - That EUREKA millisecond where creation mixes with the relief of self-validation. I can DO this!

Emotion is meat of the story. It bleeds hot and red. It freezes and cracks. It’s solid and transparent and totally motivating. Why else does the writer write?

So here’s News-Reporter Me telling Fiction-Writer Me to shut up and write. Listen to the characters. See through their eyes. Smell. Feel. Taste. Just BE.
And start typing.

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