Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute is
crafting a “starter kit” on writing serial
narratives in newspapers.
Check it out. Even if you are not a journalist,
you can learn from Mr. Clark’s teachings. In
fact, you should make it a point to read his
Writing Tools blog and all of his articles on
storytelling. Read his own serial narratives.
As I’ve said before, narratives—whether done as
serials or single stories—are wonderful magnets
for readers. I wish more newspaper editors
encouraged their writers to use narrative tools
and taught them how to do it.
But as I have also said before, narratives done
badly are terrible. Some journalists hear that
word “narrative” and they suddenly start writing
purple prose, dripping with adjectives and
adverbs. They seem to think narrative is a
license to write tedious description, to
substitute literary-sounding clichés for solid
details and to plod into stories with leisurely
leads that bore readers. The results can be
Writing a narrative is different from writing
conventional news and feature stories. It
requires a different approach and different
techniques, and these must be learned. They must
be practiced, too.
Practice with small narratives. A narrative need
not be a blockbuster or a serial with multiple
chapters. Good narratives can be done in 12 to 20
inches. They can even be done on deadline.
Practice using narrative techniques even in
stories that are not narratives. A section of
dialogue, for example, might add zing to that
meeting story you have to write.
When you can write a taut short narrative, when
you are comfortable with the tools of narrative—
description, dialogue, suspense, scenes,
cliffhangers—then you can try more ambitious
projects such as a serial.