Monday, March 23, 2015

Book review of "Writing For Story" by Jon Franklin

Writing For Story:
Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner 1986

Post by B.J. Campbell 

Casually in search of more history on the topic, I Googled “how to write non-fiction.”  Got 159,000,000 hits.  Just for fun, I asked Google for the same info on “fiction.”  Over 28,000,000 came up.

My profound conclusion:  Lots of people have wondered about these two topics.

If you are always able to sit down at your desktop and create a compelling fiction or non-fiction story that satisfies readers, leaving no one confused or disappointed, good for you! Perhaps you are a natural storyteller among writers…or you have read and applied Jon Franklin’s book, Writing for Story.

According to Franklin, what readers most want is story, which is to say---structure. So he dedicates much of his book to the elements of a story.  Whether we write non-fiction or fiction stories, or would write one or the other if we could figure out the structure, his book is for us.  Anyone who is serious about the craft of writing stories should read, enjoy and apply this book.

Franklin, pioneer in creative nonfiction, demonstrates generally basic, yet amazing, insights into the craft of writing.  He delivers those so easily, I wonder why I didn’t think of them myself.  As his innovative approach, he looks at old familiar issues for writers from a new perspective.  Franklin offers two of his own short stories for scrutiny, the book’s Chapters 2 & 3, responsible for two of his Pulitzer-Prizes.  In the rest of the book, he analyzes these two stories.  The result is a clear, manageable, step-by-step guide to constructing a convincing story in either fiction or non-fiction.

Franklin studied repeated patterns in successful stories.  Naturally, his own writing style came to rely on, and handily illustrates, how writers can apply most structural concepts of his plan to both genres—fiction and non-fiction.  He wants to help us make our plots work in either genre.  Then, with his engaging approach, he shares the secrets of writing non-fiction in a fiction style.

As one sample of his approach, he bases writing on his theory that all dramatic stories have three parts, components or focuses.  He defines and examines them with key words, like this.

·       Complication:  simply any problem encountered by any human being.  It is an event that triggers a situation that complicates our lives.
·       Development:  the character’s actions as he attempts to resolve the complication.  This tends to be long but easiest to write.
·       Resolution:  simply any change in the character or situation that resolves the complication.

It is from this structural beginning that Franklin launches his plan for a story-development technique that applies to both fiction and non-fiction writing.  Subsequent chapters give writers further insight to apply his practical theory, and literary techniques of complication/resolution, flashback, foreshadowing and pace.

Writing for Story is well worth more than one read.  I recommend this significant book to any author who wants an effective delivery plan for a good non-fiction or fiction story.  If writers practice what Franklin advises, some day, eventually, our writing will not only improve...our writing will shine.

Notes from Reviewer, BJ Campbell:
All of the stories listed below are from my book, Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob.  At   under the section heading “About the book,” these non-fiction stories are posted.  You are invited to read Franklin’s book first, then to read the Campbell stories below and decide which stories employ Franklin’s method.

          “Going Bananas”
          “Learning to Count”
          “Hound Music”


Jennifer Rova said...

Great post. I will look for his book. I still have some money gift from the holidays and this would be a good addition to my library. Thanks for the excellent review!

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

I am going to buy this book. Thank you so much for the tip.