I Hear Voices
I love to read, but I have the shortest attention span. If a story does not hook me from the beginning, my mind starts to wander and I start thinking about my next meal, the laundry that is piling up and my never-ending to-do list.
A hook is crucial and for me, a good hook involves an interesting human subject in a good piece of writing (What is Good Writing?). I want to relate right away to a person’s life story, sense of tragedy or triumph and descriptive nature. Without a heartfelt, nail-biting hook, forget it. I’ll head off to do laundry.
My favorite hooks typically exist in feature stories because the subject’s voice is established from the beginning.
While brainstorming differences between hard and soft news with my Feature Writing students this week, they pointed out that the subject’s voice is much more prominent in feature stories and that the reader can relate much more to the emotions and feelings of the subject within this style versus the objective, straight-forward structure of hard news stories.
Even though hard news is vital for up-to-date information, when I read for pleasure, I want to hear voices. I want to feel what the subject is feeling. I want to see what the subject visualizes and I want to know what the subject is thinking.
Some of my favorite feature stories have kept me engaged because I could put myself in the subject’s shoes, because I reflected on my own life while reading, and because at times, I even shed a tear or laughed out loud.
A few of these pieces include:
First Born, Fast Grown. The Manful Life of Nicholas, 10: Not only does NYT’s author Isabel Wilkerson show Nicholas’ voice, she shows the voices of his family, his teachers and his community.
Michael Kelley’s Obstacle Course: Writer Tommy Tomlinson depicts the struggles of one man who overcame tragedy and triumph over and over again.
The Loved Ones: This story, written by Tom Junod after the horror of Hurricane Katrina details the voices of nursing home owners Sal and Mabel Mangano, as well as the voices of devestated adult children of the elderly victims left to fend for themselves.
Adam & Megan: A Story of One Family’s Courage: In this feature piece, Dave Curtin digs deep into a family’s recovery from an accidental home explosion and profiles the community’s response to the tragedy.
Additional pieces available in print only:
- A Gift Abandoned by Sheryl James details the story of a young woman who abandoned her newborn in a box by a dumpster.
- The Stalking of Kristin by George Ladner chronicles his search for answers following his daughter’s death.
While my attention span is short and I’m easily distracted, it is feature stories like these that force me to sit down, read, and hear the voices of remarkable subjects.
– Shannon Philpott
Blog Entry: Jan. 22, 2010
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