Five things from Jon Krakauer’s Narrative Genius that You Should Steal and Use Immediately

Show, don’t tell.
Learn from Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.

ONE: Dialogue

I was working then as an itinerant carpenter, framing condominiums in Boulder for $3.50 and hour. One afternoon, after nine hours of humping two-by-tens and driving sixteen-penny nails, I told my boss I was quitting: “No, not in a couple of weeks, Steve; right now was more like what I had in mind.” It took me a few hours to clear my tools and other belongings… (135-136)

What Krakauer does here: There’s dialogue, but only one line. Rather than giving us the entire conversation, he gives us only what we most need to understand the substance of the conversation.

The lesson to learn: Let the people in your narrative speak, but use just what you need with dialogue. The reader may not need the entire conversation. Continue reading “Five things from Jon Krakauer’s Narrative Genius that You Should Steal and Use Immediately”

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Us and Them by David Sedaris

When my family first moved to North Carolina, we lived in a rented house three blocks from the school where I would begin the third grade. My mother made friends with one of the neighbors, but one seemed enough for her. Within a year we would move again and, as she explained, there wasn’t much point in getting too close to people we would have to say good-bye to. Our next house was less than a mile away, and the short journey would hardly merit tears or even good-byes, for that matter. It was more of a “see you later” situation, but still I adopted my mother’s attitude, as it allowed me to pretend that not making friends was a conscious choice. I could if I wanted to. It just wasn’t the right time.

Continue reading “Us and Them by David Sedaris”

The Inheritance of Tools, by Scott Russell Sanders

At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning when ice coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer. Naturally I swore at the hammers the reckless thing, and in the moment of swearing I thought of what my father would say: “If you’d try hitting the nail it would go in a whole lot faster. Don’t you know your thumb’s not as hard as that hammer?” We both were doing carpentry that day, but far apart. He was building cupboards at my brother’s place in Oklahoma; I was at home in Indiana, putting up a wall in the basement to make a bedroom for my daughter. By the time my mother called with news of his death–the long distance wires whittling her voice until it seemed too thin to bear the weight of what she had to say-my thumb was swollen. A week or so later a white scar in the shape of a crescent moon began to show above the cuticle and month by month it rose across the pink sky of my thumbnail. It took the better part of a year for the scar to disappear, and every time I noticed it I thought of my father.

Continue reading “The Inheritance of Tools, by Scott Russell Sanders”

Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan

I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose.

When I found out that my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried. What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappointment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?

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Dreams Die in Drought: Drought Yields Only Desperation

by Diana Marcum

Originally published by the LA Times, 30 May 2014

HURON, CALIFORNIA: The two fieldworkers scraped hoes over weeds that weren’t there.

“Let us pretend we see many weeds,” Francisco Galvez told his friend Rafael. That way, maybe they’d get a full week’s work.

They always tried to get jobs together. Rafael, the older man, had a truck. Galvez spoke English. And they liked each other’s jokes.

But this was the first time in a month, together or alone, that they’d found work.

Continue reading “Dreams Die in Drought: Drought Yields Only Desperation”

272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?

by Rachel R. Swarns

Originally published by the NYTimes, 16 April 2016

WASHINGTON — The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South. Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance.

But on this day, in the fall of 1838, no one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard.

Their panic and desperation would be mostly forgotten for more than a century. But this was no ordinary slave sale. The enslaved African-Americans had belonged to the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests. And they were sold, along with scores of others, to help secure the future of the premier Catholic institution of higher learning at the time, known today as Georgetown University. Continue reading “272 Slaves Were Sold to Save Georgetown. What Does It Owe Their Descendants?”

You See Sneakers, These Guys See Hundreds Of Millions In Resale Profit

by Lisa Chow

Originally published on Five Thirty Eight, 17 October 2014

Shirod Ince sat at the front of a line of more than 100 people, mostly guys in their early 20s, on a Friday evening last month. For two days, he and his friends had been taking turns waiting outside a Foot Locker in Harlem to buy the new LeBron sneaker. Through the long, restless hours, they had sustained themselves on Popeye’s, McDonald’s and a belief that it would all pay off in the end.

Ince had no plans to wear the new Nikes. No, for the past two years, the 22-year-old basketball coach has been reselling the sneakers he waits for. And he thought he could double, triple, possibly even quadruple his money for this particular pair, getting anywhere between $500 and $900 for a sneaker that was selling for $250 retail.

“I’ve been here since Wednesday. I have to get it,” he said. “It’s going to be crazy in the morning.”

Continue reading “You See Sneakers, These Guys See Hundreds Of Millions In Resale Profit”