How to write quality stories

I used to play piano for six years. I started from do-re-mi to Chopin and Bach. I played the piano with eyes. I memorized many pieces and I hit the right notes. I never missed it. I thought I was the best.

One day, my piano instructor sat me down and told me I am not good enough to be a professional pianist. She said, “You may be hitting the right notes, it sound like something is missing. I think it’s because you are just pushing the keyboards.”

She admitted that I hit the rights notes for classical, jazz and contemporary pieces, but they all sounded too mechanical. I failed to express the sadness of Beethoven’s Moonlight, the passionate love of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.4.

After reading part IV of Telling True Stories, I started to reevaluate my writings habits because I saw the resemblance in my experience as a soulless young pianist to an aspiring journalist. I see writing with correct grammar as the keyboards for my writing assignments. Writing is just like playing an instrument. Writing in correct grammar won’t get me anywhere far.

Louise Kearnan

Louise Kiernan

I maybe able to get by just by playing classical genre. However in journalism, I shouldn’t divide genres, according to Louise Kiernan, a Northwestern University professor. Instead, I should combine all. In order to write a well-written complicated stories, I would need to expand my writing capacity.

My internship at the Times Union helps me to grow as a writer. For example, even though I am working for the Features Desk, I would need to research, investigate and dig for bigger news.

For any piece that I am assigned, I feel like they are all complicated. I agree with Kiernan that, “Writing about complex topics require absolute mastery of the material.”  As I mentioned in earlier post, this is one of the parts that I love about journalism. I get to be the master of certain subject for my writing piece. I get to study for free. Also, Alma Guillermoprieto, a former The Washington Post Central America corespondent said she does enormous amounts of reading before she begin reporting.


Alma Guillermoprieto

To increase the quality of my story, I often go beyond with my sources. I interview one or two more people in the field. Kiernan interviewed two physics professors and two glass experts to write one paragraph for her Ana Flores’ story for Chicago TribuneSometimes I wish my readers could see how many phone calls I make, emails I write and how much time I spend on the Internet researching. 

“It’s the iceberg effect: one-eighth of your work is above the surface, in the story. The seven-eighth that the readers can’t see form your story’s foundation. Trust your reporting. Embed it in your story.”

– Louise Kiernan

The biggest thing I failed while I was an aspiring pianist was putting emotions to my piece. Now as a writer, I want to produce quality stories every time I write. Tom Wolfe, best known for his association and influence over the New Journalism literary movement, gave some tips. He said for quality nonfiction using the technical devices of the novel and the short story includes:

  1. Scene-by-scene construction
  2. Use of copious dialogue
  3. Careful notation of status details
  4. Point of view

Lastly, Guillermoprieto inspired me to write what I truly care about. She also emphasized that having emotions in the report doesn’t mean it is less truthful. Emotions are one of the elements that connects and draws readers with the story. With this element, the writer will be able to build relationship with their readers and the writing heritage will continue.