Notes on Narratively, the Fine Line Between Getting Lost in a Story and Losing Interest in a Story

For class this week, I got to explore the website Narratively and read countless stories from people of all walks of life in narratives that varied and included some of everything. My favorite section ended up being the “Sex” section for the rawness of the stories there.

One author did an amazing job writing an interview and giving her readers a look into the life of a professional Dom in Den of a DominatrixThe author grabs the reader’s attention and paints them a picture through this interview, turning the process into more than the expected Q&A session.

“The waitress, the busboy, the wiry haired woman at the table next to us – all at some point pause to stare. If Josie notices, she does not let on or she does not care.”

At the very beginning the interviewee is painted as someone who is powerful in her own way, walks into a room and takes it, which goes well with what we learn very quickly about Josie.

My goal as a writer is to be able to write an interview like this and since this was one of the first things I read for this week, the bar was set high and stories with interviews stuck out to me more.

I found myself comparing two pieces from the “Animals” section, both told with information from wildlife biologists and ecologists. I felt one story worked for me more than the other.

Saving the Snow Leopard, by Learning to Love it took us on a journey to save snow leopards in India. We are immediately thrust into a scene with compelling photos and the words:

“On a bright and sunny summer Thursday, Tsewang Namgail drives his run-down white Jeep through the rough desert terrain of the Indian Himalayas. The Buddhist hymn, “Om Mani Padme Hum…” plays on loop from the CD player as he speeds through the winding, dusty roads. A stuffed toy, with a snow leopard’s head and a long, snake-like body, dangles from Namgail’s rear-view mirror.”

Our scene is set and from here on we go through Namgail describing the way the people in the area live giving an understanding to why they hate snow leopards, making his conservation efforts hard. Through out the piece we also hear from a villager who works to protect snow leopards by recording when livestock is attacked by snow leopards so that government conservations groups can compensate the people for their loss of income, making them feel more secure.

This is a story being told with science and conservation project information being fitted in around the lives of the people and around the words of the story. The flow works well and the reader is never overwhelmed with facts and the facts never take away from the picture painted by the narrative, but instead they add to it.

The same can not be said for Tracking the Great Coyote Invasion of NYC , an article like story that I think is good, but I think it could have been better and its interview and flow did not quite compare to others, specifically Saving the Snow Leopard, by Learning to Love it.

The narrative about coyotes moving themselves into the densely populated New York City and surrounding areas was full of information that was not delivered in a reader friendly way. Large blocks of text read like a text book on ecology and the city’s relationship with coyotes. Interactions between the author and the team of ecologists while they worked together to in the field, where lost in the mass of factual information. The ecologist’s field work, which had enough detail to paint a picture, seemed clinical.

A little rearranging would make the piece more reader friendly as well. One specific area seemed odd, divided by a picture of a mother coyote and her pups a line tucked into the beginning,

“Eventually Toomey left to work in the United Kingdom, leaving the coyotes behind.”

This would have worked well several sentences or a paragraph before when the author was talking about Toomey’s involvement with the coyote project but it is instead tucked into a mass of information about the other ecologists studying the coyotes.

I think there is a certain something to being able to write an interview and build a person’s character and profile up in a way other than a series of questions. I love the way that research can be put into a piece to supplement it instead of being the focus and this is something I would like to work on as a writer.

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5 thoughts on “Notes on Narratively, the Fine Line Between Getting Lost in a Story and Losing Interest in a Story

  1. Hi, Maegan! I appreciated your insights about the three articles you read (from your “About” page, I can see why you would have chosen them) because those were not ones I may have chosen (and I’m glad you brought them to my attention). I also discovered, in the three I read, how some pieces fit together–providing information, drawing me into the story emotionally–while, in others, I just want to say “huh?” This is a good lesson for me, to think–really think–about what I know to be logical in my mind may not make sense (let alone be persuasive) to someone who isn’t coming from “my corner.” Your critique is helpful. Thanks!

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  2. Maegan,
    Since you gravitate toward animal stories, I was surprised at your comments in “Den of a Dominatrix.” Even more surprising was your interest in writing from interviews. There is an art to a successful interview and how that interview translates to the page. I found the same high bar while navigating Narratively for this assignment in a piece written from an interview. It’s funny how you discover challenges in the most unexpected places.

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    • I actually thought of one of your interview stories from Dr. Crisp’s class when I read “Den of a Dominatrix”. The interview was so immersive and I thought the piece you did for that class was the same way and both were very inspiring to my writer brain.

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  3. Weaving interview into narrative is VERY hard for a number of reasons, not the least of which that readers want a seamless, intriguing story, and sometimes, the interview is just boring. Or the description becomes cliche because the writer begins with the “So and so walked into said coffee shop in a scarf and tasteful pantsuit.” “Den of a Dominatrix” starts with an effective line as an intro, but it struggled a bit to pull in the surroundings in the next few paragraphs. Including a bit more narrative before jumping into the surroundings is helpful to draw in the reader.

    What I think some of us MIGHT be struggling with are those stories that have a pithy headline and short description, and then the shiny wears off a few paragraphs in and the writing can’t sustain the story. The REALLY good stories are those that might be a little quirky but well-written rather than completely off-the-wall and trying to make it through on the force of the strange.

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