Monday, August 21, 2017

Nut Grafs and Magazine Stories

Academic essays have a focus statement. News stories have a nut graf, often only a sentence long. (News stories usually have very short paragraphs.) Magazine/Feature stories may have a focus statement or a nut graf. Or they may not. What they *always* have is a point of view (POV), a ruling attitude, an inclination, a world view, a shape that influences readers. Some writers don’t think ahead. They simply proceed by association, one thing suggesting another until the writer runs out of things to say or space in which to say it. But somewhere in such stories a reader will find a central thrust, even if it is that the world is a very confusing place, at least to the writer.
I don’t find the story-by-accident very appealing. Therefore, in this course I am asking you to tell me what, in your opinion, the point of your story is. You may if you wish put that point high in the story in the form of a thesis sentence:
Cyril de Mawbry met many people during those mad early days in San Francisco, some that delighted him and some that repelled him. But three in particular fixed in his mind an idea of America’s perils and promises that guides him still.
Or you may wish to proceed indirectly, attempting to “show” your reader information that, you are confident, will lead the reader to a POV toward your material without her/his being instructed what that POV should be. That’s fine with me. But I want you to tell me what you want the reader to conclude as a result of your clever writing. That is, even if you don’t have a focus statement inside your story, I want you to write it down for me *outside* the story.
Does this mean you should outline your story in the explicity manner Jon Franklin suggests, as you will discover when we read him? Not necessarily. You may enjoy writing in a loose associational manner and only *after the fact* discovering what your point is. If that’s the way you work, you are probably going to need to prune the story afterwards to improve focus, and that approach may be more labor intensive. Still, whatever works for you.
Bottom line: Either inside or outside the story will be a statement of what your story is intended to mean, or even – and here the waters are deep – what you have discovered it to mean. If that statement is outside the story, you may want to say something about the structure of the story and the clever way in which you guided your reader.

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