|Working With Words|
Fairfield Writers Group
EXERCISE FOR SEPTEMBER 2011
REPORT VERSUS STORY
1. Write a report a 350 word report the following story :
The Road Turned, the Car Didn't
The roads were curved. The night was dark. I was lost. I didn't own a cell phone. I was still in high school. My boyfriend was calling my cousin, who just HAD to live in the middle of nowhere, trying again to get instructions.
I made it up the windy road only to find a dead end and not my cousin's house. I made a U-turn and began the descent down the road and then...I still don't know what happened. I caught some dirt, didn't quite turn and as I tell people when they ask about my car, "the road turned..I didn't."
I landed upside down in a ravine. Thankfully it was someone's yard. We knocked on their doorbell and were greeted by a smiling couple, "Did you land in our yard?" the man asked as the woman welcomed us in, "Not to worry. Second time this month. If we knew you were coming we would have saved dinner! Would you like some desert?"
How awful that the road is so poorly designed this family is used to cars landing upside down in their backyard!
2. Write a 350 word story on the following report :
“Turnaround not working, resident claims
West End residents are concerned a $1.5 million bus turnaround, built by the Brisbane City Council, is going to waste.
West End residents are concerned a $1.5 million bus turnaround, built by the Brisbane City Council, is going to waste.
The turnaround, on the corner of Hoogley and Orleigh streets, was built to prevent the CityGlider using a surrounding group of residential streets, Morry St, Gray Rd and Hoogley St, as a make-shift turnaround.
Gloria Collie, 41, said buses were still using the streets and banking on Hoogley St, even when spaces were available at the bus turnaround.
She said residents already had to endure frequent 192 and 199 buses and that the CityGlider services to Teneriffe had added more noise pollution.
"It's not just engine noise, it's the breaking and acceleration noises," she said.
Ms Collie said safety was also a concern as residents had trouble crossing the streets.
"Our community is very diverse, there are elderly people, lots of children and people who are disabled," Ms Collie said.
However, Brisbane City Council public and active transport chairman Julian Simmonds said all CityGlider buses should utilise the turnaround.
He claimed the turnaround had "halved" the number of buses travelling on suburban streets.
"The only instance where they wouldn't utilise the turnaround would be if the stop was filled up and they had to go ... into Hoogley St to the hold up bays," he said.
He said residents should write to him if buses were avoiding the turnaround when spaces were available.
"If they were going to Hoogley St when there was space at the bus stop ... we would have to address that with the individual driver concerned," he said.
Ms Collie said residents also wanted to reduce the number of 192 and 199 buses travelling in local streets.
However, a Translink spokesman said they were not considering changes.
The Translink spokesman said inbound services departed from a stop on Orleigh St, beyond the turnaround, so they were unable to return via Hoogley St.”
- Kate Higgins
- From: Quest Newspapers
- August 10, 20119:54AM
REPORTS vs STORIES: HOW DO THEY DIFFER
Writers who have extensive experience in technical, business, and other non-fiction writing often struggle with the transition to story writing. It can be difficult to break the habit of documenting events and conversation objectively, and drawing conclusions that are stated and supported by reference to facts.
A report should relate facts in a very direct and un-emotive manner.
In a story, you want to put the reader in a scene and let him watch events take place, observe the characters, hear their tone of voice as well as what they say. Let him observe the setting, smell the odours, feel the character’s emotion.
When the mother is called to the principal’s office to discuss her problem son, your reader is a fly on the wall. What does he see and hear? Is she shivering… white faced… red faced… pounding the desk… shouting at the principal?
When she comes home to have coffee with her friend and report on the events of the day, does her friend notice, as she sets the coffee cup in front of her,
· that the woman who always manicured her lovely nails weekly and was inevitably meticulously groomed – has ragged, broken or bitten nails with the polish half off;
· that her hair is uncombed;
· that she’s not wearing stockings and her legs are hairy??
· That the hem of her skirt is hanging down or a button is missing from her blouse?
Does she worry, wondering if her friend looked like that when she went to the school.
Is she concerned what people might think?
Is her friend teary-eyed as she tells what happened, or resigned.
Did the principal notice that she wasn’t the elegant, poised, self-assured woman who came to enrol her son a year ago? What did he notice that was different?
When the man kicks the dog, how does the dog react. Is his yelp high pitched, or does he give a low, threatening growl?
How does the girl smell? Yes, we know she isn’t bathing often enough, and has body odour, but what does the smell remind you of, specifically? Can you compare it to something specific? Urine… or vomit perhaps?
When the man is frightened, how does he show it? Does he turn pale? Does his hand shake?
Rather than REPORTING what happened, what someone saw, what someone did, etc., the story teller paints a scene and lets the reader actually experience it for themselves. If a story is well-written, the reader should finish it feeling as though they were temporarily transported into the body and mind of someone else and lived an experience as that person. You want your reader to say “Oh my goodness! I was there! I saw it. I felt it. I actually lived it!”
The following table lists some of the specific differences between a report and a story.
Tells (reports) facts in a direct, un-emotive manner.
Reveals information through the gradual unfolding of scenes in which dialog, description of reactions (and sometimes emotions) and events expose information.
Events usually related either in time sequence or sequenced to support the order of stated premises.
Events may be related in somewhat random order to maximize suspense
Leaves nothing relevant out, nor delays exposure of relevant data to confuse or create suspense
Writer deliberately selects what to include and what to leave out based on the effect desired. Delays exposure of information to maximize suspense and tension. Rearranges events so that the time sequence is incorrect but interest is maximized.
Forms and states judgments and conclusions (which must be backed up by argument and factual reporting
Leaves the reader to form judgments and conclusions. Does not tell them how to feel or respond.
Facts stated rather blandly and only as far as they are specifically relevant. Eg. The weather is generally not mentioned unless it has a bearing on the conclusions in the report.
The writer seeks to paint a scene, so may comment on anything that is visible or can be sensed – even though it may be of minimal or no real importance.
Writer draws only on the senses that detect relevant data.
Writer draws on all senses – tells what the characters saw, smelled, heard, felt – what was happening in the background, described so the reader sees it, hears it, smells it, feels it.
Writer tells what happened. Feelings and emotions are reported only where specifically relevant and usually only to the extent that one or more subjects of the report stated their feelings or emotions.
Writer aims for maximum objectivity.
Writer unveils feelings and emotions un-objectively – unapologetically seeking to evoke specific responses in the reader, but never telling the reader how to respond.
The description must put the reader in the scene and MAKE them feel a certain way – without ever telling them to!
The reader wants to SEE the character turning white or shaking with rage; smell the coffee and toast; hear the clock ticking or the door slamming; feel the shiver running down the character’s spine. Don’t TELL them about it. Make them experience it!
Writer tells rather than shows.
e.g. Mrs Jones appeared to be frightened.
Writer shows rather than tells e.g.
He watched as the colour drained from Mrs. Jones’ face, her eyes bulged, and she began to tremble violently.
(Note, we don’t want to tell the reader she was frightened, or that he thought she looked frightened. We want the readers to see her reaction and make their own judgment.)
Be clear and direct. No surprises or confusion please.
Surprises and shock endings are good! Shake the reader up a bit. May them say…”Oh my goodness! I didn’t see that coming.”
Suspense is not usually desirable
Suspense is essential. Make the reader tense up, fearing what’s coming. Make him wonder! Keep him guessing. Take the tension up, then wind it down, then take it up and wind it down again. Create a roller coaster.
Tell directly. No devices please.
Use devices. Characters discover and read a diary, find and read old letters, receive and read a letter, write a letter, hear a radio or TV announcement, see a documentary, overhear a conversation, read a newspaper article, discover a mystery friend who remembers long-forgotten events, have a dream, recall something from the past… There are a thousand ways to draw out background information for the reader.
Use filters to make it clear who saw, heard, did, or thought what.
e.g. Mrs Jones ignored the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign and stepped off the kerb. Mr Jones reported that he saw a black car speeding toward the intersection that his wife was crossing. He said that he noted that it was heading directly towards his wife. He said he felt very frightened.
Don’t use filters. Use direct action statements instead.
A black car sped toward the intersection. It was heading right for Mrs Jones, who had stepped recklessly off the kerb against the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign. Mr Jones, who had stopped at the lights, turned white and began to tremble violently.
Be creative. Add some spice. Don’t worry if it’s not quite accurate (if this is a story based on fact). Stories need excitement that goes beyond truth.
Be credible, but understand that truth is stranger than fiction. Often truth is incredible. If something incredible is reported, be very clear and objective and note that although it seems incredible, this is, in fact, what happened
Truth really is stranger than fiction, so often stating the truth makes a story unbelievable. Coincidences that happen in real life just don’t work in fiction. When the character goes to the other side of the world for a holiday and coincidentally runs into her elderly neighbour boarding the plane for home, the reader says ‘What utter nonsense.’ Sure, it happens in real life, but a fiction reader won’t swallow it!
Tell me what happened.
E.g. Sarah took some time to respond to the knock on the door.
When she finally did respond, the caller (a neighbour who later called police) noted that she had a black eye, a lump on her forehead, and a split lower lip.
In her statement, Sarah said that she was embarrassed and frightened that he would report her condition and bring in the authorities to interfere in her life.
She said, “I hoped if I ignored the knock, the caller would go away. I knew if I suffered in silence, Jack would become remorseful and be good to me for a while, but if he was caught out either he would take it out on me, or, if he was sent to prison, we would lose the benefit of his wages coming in and the children and I would suffer more.”
Sarah confessed openly to Sergeant Bryce that while she hesitated that morning, she was formulating her plan to murder her husband by stabbing him while he slept.
Let me (the reader) experience what happened through the character. Let me BE him or her.
Who was it? Why must they come now, of all times?
Sarah waited. “Please make them go away,” whispered to the empty room.
She moved to the mirror and stood there, for a time, staring at that awful reflection --running her fingers over the lump on her forehead, studying the bruising around her eye, gently easing her lower lip down to measure the length of the cut and the extent of the swelling.
She’d made no attempt to apply makeup. What was the use? Anyway, it would hurt too much. She hadn’t even bothered to comb her hair. Her bathrobe – the same one she wore last night – was blood stained around the collar.
Her ribs hurt. She wondered should she seek an X-ray. Could they be broken? They mend themselves anyway – broken ribs. The doctor told her so that time she’d lied and said she fell. He didn’t offer any treatment.
She tried to peek through the window, but she couldn’t see the caller.
The clock counted the minutes… loudly. Tick, tock, tick, tock. It taunted her and dared her to make the caller wait so long he would think her out, and leave. But the lights were on. The radio was blaring. The smell of burnt bacon was wafting through the open kitchen window.
Maybe she should report it herself. What would they do? If they put Jack in jail, how would she feed the kids. If they didn’t, he would beat her again for dobbing him in.
Maybe she wanted the caller to see her… report it… take it out of her hands? But no! That would only make things worse. Jack would blame her. He would drink to drown his anger at being caught out, and then he would beat her. He would withhold housekeeping money. He would be sharp with the children. He would berate her and curse her and refuse her every request for help. It would make it so very much worse. When she suffered silently, he eventually became remorseful and was good to her… for a while.
God, please make this visitor go away!”
And all the while, she plotted.. schemed… planned. She saw how it would all unfold, and she panted with excitement at the prospect freedom… and ultimately, peace.
A Useful Test:
Imagine you are in a theatre and your story is being played out on stage. Go through the story line by line and highlight all the bits that can’t be portrayed on the stage.
The set designer can paint backdrops or furnish sets to create the scene you described and reproduce smells.
The sound engineer can create the noises you describe.
The actors can speak the dialog you wrote and move, change facial expressions, make gestures, show a hand with broken fingernails, etc.
But mark the bits that the actors can’t act out or speak – the information that readers will get but play viewers won’t. How much of the story is highlighted. What critical information will the viewer miss out on?
Next, go through each scene and note all the questions the actors, sound engineer, and set designer will have to ask you in order to create the scene.
What didn’t you tell about the setting, and the character’s pose and expressions?
No, you absolutely DO NOT want to tell it all.
Too much detail is probably worse than not enough, and no reader wants to read a lot of rambling irrelevant description about the colour of the mother’s skirt and the height of her heels.
You want to reveal a few critical titbits – enough to give the reader a feel for the important characteristics.
But you don’t want to leave them with no idea who this character is, what they look like, how they act, what social class they belong to… etc. They need enough to be able to picture and get to know the character – to feel like they have met them and spent enough time with them to understand them and relate to what they have been through.