At the age of four with his parents getting divorced perhaps Truman Capote was too young to realize the beginning of a troubled childhood. He moved homes as he stayed with his mother’s relative. At the age of 11, he started writing fiction and became obsessed with it. Writing for Truman was like playing the violin as it teleported him into a world which was full of possibilities. In 1966 after eight years of research aided by his close friend Harper Lee he published his third novel ‘In Cold Blood‘ reinventing the genre of ‘Creative Non-Fiction’ popularly referred to as Narrative Journalism. The book continues to be the best-selling crime novel of all time to this date.
Creative non-fiction follows a subject or a theme for extended periods of time. The narrative focuses on providing well-researched information with an intensely personal perspective.
Today the approach has been wholeheartedly embraced by leading magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s and more. News publications use narrative journalism as it is more intriguing and strikes an emotional chord with the readers. But narrative journalism cannot be practiced in every setting hence inverted pyramid continues to be the go-to-approach when it comes delivering news at high frequency.
Inverse Pyramid provides a structure to the story which starts with the headline, the lead paragraph which outlines the context or sets the mood for the reader followed by ‘nut graph.’ Nut graph explains the news value of the story. The essential facts of the story including who, what, when, where, why, and how in the first two or three sentences. The main body and conclusion follow nut graph. Narrative journalism breaks the mold as it reveals the details in a staggered manner making the story more intriguing for the reader.
Narrative Journalism for Content Marketing
Brands are increasingly embracing narrative journalism to write feature stories. We have picked snippets from different content initiatives managed by brands across the world to offer you a perspective.
Writing Lead Paragraphs
Increment is a digital magazine published by Stripe which covers the state of software engineering. Stripe is world’s leading fintech platform for payments. Here is an excerpt from the magazine latest article on ‘case studies in cloud migration.’
Observe how the lead paragraph is written to draw the readers attention. The writer uses an anecdotal intro to draw the readers attention to a situation. Now imagine if the same article was writing in a non-narrative manner will you still bother reading it?
GE Reports (GE’s content platform) covered a story on how their technology was used to create a digital version of the lava lake. Below is an excerpt from the article titled ‘Internet Of Volcanoes: Take A Dip Inside The World’s First Digital Lava Lake.’ The author of the article uses an anecdotal introduction to draw your attention to the content and only revealing the purpose of the expedition in the paragraphs that follow.
Lead paragraphs draw the reader into the story. Considering shorter attention span, it’s your task to keep the reader glued to the article for the first fifteen seconds. Lead paragraphs can also start with a question, statement, description, summary, description of a character or creating a contrast with a statement. As a writer, you can also use a combination of multiple lead paragraphs to draw the readers. Here is an excerpt from an article on Unlimited World (UBS’s content platform) titled ‘The Attention Paradox: Winning By Slowing Down.’
The article starts with a question and follows it up with a description of a character named Jing to set the context and draw the users into the narrative.
Beauty lies in the Description
Earlier this year New York Times Reporter, Mike Issac published a well-researched personality sketch of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The article titled ‘Uber’s C.E.O. Plays With Fire‘ caught the media frenzy. The article and the subsequent events that happened forced Travis to resign from his position. Below are excerpts from the article.
Mike’s article uses quotes from Travis’s close associates to substantiate his findings. The excerpt above highlight the aggressiveness of the character. Similarly, if a brand has to write an effective feature story, then it has to substantiate the content with findings or present situations which demonstrate the case.
A feature story follows a normal pyramid structure hence it’s not necessary to cover all the essential parts of the story in the nut graph. Feature stories can also include key elements in the subsequent paragraphs to keep the reader’s attention intact.
Conclusions usually summarize key points from the story however it is also the most cliched approached to end your story. A more appropriate way to end the story would be to share one thought that the reader can carry back after they have concluded reading the story. This thought can also be in the form of a straightforward question or an appropriate quotation. Also, not all stories will have an ending as a writer you can also leave the ending open or unresolved.
Journalism that doesn’t assume the reader is a robot, that acknowledges the reader knows lots and feels and snickers and gets wild.
– Mark Kramer, former director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism
Brands are moving away from conveying information to telling stories. Narrative journalism gives brands the ability to connect with the reader at an emotional level and move him from a reader to an active participant.