Conference info

The basics of narrative with Mark Kramer


Mark Kramer, co-founder of Well Told and a leading expert on the teaching of narrative journalism, joines today to discuss key storytelling techniques for narrative journalism, particularly focusing on the impact of voice and the importance of creating suspense and tension.

Kramer began his talk by discussing narrative journalism as a form is often unexpected. “Most people who read narrative journalism have no idea they’re reading it,” he says, but acknowledging that “people still have trouble writing it because they’ve learnt a bunch of rules.”

For Kramer, however, it’s not about writing by rules. He focuses on voice and characterisation in his writing, and is not afraid of having to write “37 drafts”. Kramer explains the impact of voice by suggesting narrative journalism should capture ‘a different voice’.

He says that in narrative journalism “you speak in a voice that allows knowledge and it signals to others that they should be open to it. It’s a different voice to the voice you use when you text your best friend”.

Voice is important for three reasons, he says. Firstly, a tasteful and respectful private voice signals that the writer has ‘authority’ for the subject at hand. Secondly,  voice allows the “human sensibility of other people”. Lastly, a strong voice in narrative journalism promotes “acknowledgement of your [own] sensibility.”

Kramer also sees significance in creating suspense and tension in narrative journalism. He notes the significance of punctuation, particularly brackets, in helping to control readers’ pace when reading and also enjoys nice words like ‘swooping’ that invites the reader into the narrative.

When writing, Kramer eliminates the verb ‘to be’. “You should always try to activate your verbs, it makes things more intimate.”

Kramer also comments that he tries to always “take account of the five senses”. He does this by writing detailed notes to help him fully develop his narrative.

Words by Molly Dowrick 

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