My Year in Highlights
Here are this year’s highlights from my reading on the kindle. I find it interesting that I barely highlit anything in my favorite books (Being Mortal, Moonwalking with Einstein) but I do usually only highlight from things I plan to use when teaching (such as Storycraft.) Hope it’s interesting!
Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and) Last annotated on December 30, 2014
as the Charles Dickens formula for success has it: “Make them laugh. Make them cry. But, most of all, make them wait.”
Philip Gerard, who writes both novels and book-length narrative nonfiction, says a story follows when “a character we care about acts to fulfill his desires with important consequences.”
“Perhaps because polish is so visible,” Jon Franklin says, “many people erroneously believe it to be the most important part of writing.” But polish, Franklin adds, is merely “the plaster on the walls of structure.” The proof is in the window of the bookstore down the block. The display of current best sellers no doubt contains several titles by tin-eared pop novelists who wouldn’t recognize a graceful sentence if it asked them to dance. The likes of Jean Auel and Tom Clancy sell books by the millions because they understand story structure, a point that’s lost on the critics who savage their syntax.
…exposition is the enemy of narrative. Good exposition provides just enough backstory to explain how the protagonist happens to be in a particular place, at a particular time, with the wants that will lead to the next phase of the story. Thorough reporting produces overwhelming detail. Good storytellers cut through it to create a clear path leading forward.
Even the little bit that must be known will block easy entry to the story if it delays the action line. The secret, Hunter Thompson said, is to “blend, blend, blend.” You launch action immediately and then blend the exposition into it, submerging it in modifiers, subordinate clauses, appositives, and the like.
“A narrative is when things go wrong.”
I was inspired by an anecdote about Hemingway and Fitzgerald careering through the Spanish countryside in an open car, playing a metaphor game. One would point to a roadside object, and the other had to coin a simile instantly. The penalty for failure was a long pull on a bottle of Spanish red. Developing a sense of metaphor, apparently, could be fun.
Great narrative rests on the three legs of character, action, and scene, and character comes first because it drives the other two. The personality, values, and desires of a protagonist produce action. And the POV character’s wants put her in a particular place, creating scene. “There must be a force which will unify all parts,” Lajos Egri said, “a force out of which they will grow as naturally as limbs grow from the body. We think we know what that force is: human character, in all its infinite ramifications and dialectical contradictions.”
The bigger the want, the bigger the story. Charlotte’s lust for freebies is about right for a newspaper series. Eric Knaus’s addiction fits a major magazine piece. Someone who sees himself as humanity’s savior deserves a book.
Elmore Leonard revealed one of the secrets of his success when he said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”
“And how do you slow down?” Tom asks. “You allow more space on the page. You allow more sentences. You literally write in shorter sentences. You get more paragraph breaks. You use space. You find pauses inside the scene that occur naturally that you would normally skip over.”
As Ted Cheney argued in Writing Creative Nonfiction, this kind of narrative “doesn’t just report the facts—it delivers the facts in ways that move people toward a deeper understanding of the topic.”
Nora Ephron put it, “All storytelling is a Rorschach.”
Willa Cather, a real reductionist when it came to these things, is famous for having said, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”
…a kit bag of immersion reporting techniques. Gorney, who now teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, journalism school, says she approaches her reporting by asking questions such as what it’s like to actually be her subjects and looking for the most interesting or surprising aspects of their worlds. She says she answers those questions by:
1. “Breathing their air.”
2. “Quietly observing, hanging around.”
3. “Understanding the rhythm of their typical work.”
4. “Learning their vocabulary.”
5. “Reading their literature”—texts, guidebooks, professional publications.
6. “Finding their gurus.”
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story Last annotated on December 26, 2014
I initially wanted to call this book The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole
Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change Last annotated on December 23, 2014
Training From the Back of the Room!: 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn Last annotated on December 17, 2014
Give Your Speech, Change the World: How To Move Your Audience to Action Last annotated on December 15, 2014
Public speaking must be more than merely conversation on your hind legs.
Far more speeches fail from a surfeit of information than a deficit.
It’s a matter of showing them the respect due real people whom you genuinely want to move, to persuade to action. You don’t do that by dazzling them, or by podium antics, or by flashy PowerPoint slides (least of all those!). You do it by taking them with you on a journey that honors their thought processes and their need to have both intellect and emotion fed in the work that they do.
In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) Last annotated on November 28, 2014
A Field Guide for Science Writers: The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers Last annotated on November 23, 2014
I like to think of structuring a news story like hosting a party. When your guests arrive at the door, welcome them and tell them what is going on, but don’t overload them with information. As they settle in, make sure that they get around to talk to the people they should meet. Look like you are having fun, even if you are stressed out. When it’s time for guests to leave, say goodbye and maybe even give them a parting gift to remember the occasion by. Who knows, they might just want to come to your next party.
Note: design writers could learn from science writers
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (Advanced Fiction Writing Book 1) Last annotated on September 17, 2014
The Winter Long: October Daye #8 Last annotated on September 4, 2014
I don’t like parties. Someone always tries to assassinate someone I actually like, and there are never enough of those little stuffed mushroom caps.
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love Last annotated on September 3, 2014
WRITE EVERY DAY: How to Write Faster, and Write More (Rock Your Writing Book 4) Last annotated on August 29, 2014
Leading Change, With a New Preface by the Author Last annotated on August 28, 2014
Who’s Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success–and Won’t Let You Fail Last annotated on August 24, 2014
Raymond Chandler: Writing the Big Sleep Last annotated on August 23, 2014
Rhythm was important to Ray and he took an unusual approach to ensure his novels had it. He would take a sheet of yellow letter paper, eight and a half inches by eleven inches, cut it in half, and roll it into a typewriter ‘turned up long ways’.8 Then, triple spacing as he went, he would write around 125 to 150 words on each piece of paper. He believed that this method of writing, in short sharp bursts, kept his prose lean and punchy: ‘If there isn’t a little meat on each [page], something is wrong.’9 Looking carefully at The Big Sleep, it is sometimes possible to see quite clearly each 150-word chunk of text.
Note: Raymond Chandler practically tweeted his novels. (140 char vs 150 words) Keep it punchy!
Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff Last annotated on August 15, 2014
Wolfe wonders why a generation of great engineers and scientists came from such unexpected places. “Just why was it that small-town boys from the Middle West dominated the engineering frontiers? Noyce concluded it was because in a small town you became a technician, a tinker, an engineer, and an inventor, by necessity. “In a small town,” Noyce liked to say, “when something breaks down, you don’t wait around for a new part, because it’s not coming. You make it yourself.”
Top 10 Seoul (EYEWITNESS TOP 10 TRAVEL GUIDE) Last annotated on June 29, 2014
Goyangi Darakbang You can pet a cat here, while drinking your macchiato. 51–14 Myeongdong 318 3123
The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny Last annotated on June 9, 2014
Note: Do men or women have a better sense of humor? Always check the study protocol!
The NEW Launch Plan: 152 Tips, Tactics and Trends from the Most Memorable New Products Last annotated on June 2, 2014
Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers Last annotated on June 2, 2014
Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures Last annotated on May 22, 2014
Managing The Professional Service Firm Last annotated on May 11, 2014
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most Last annotated on May 3, 2014
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Last annotated on April 26, 2014
Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down Last annotated on March 28, 2014
Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games Last annotated on February 9, 2014
In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives Last annotated on February 3, 2014
Even worse than failing to make an OKR was exceeding the standard by a large measure; it implied that an employee had sandbagged it, played it safe, thought small. Google had no place for an audacity-challenged person whose grasp exceeded his reach.
Note: Googles doesn’t approve of hitting all your okrs, or worse, exceeding them.
What’s more, OKRs were not private benchmarks shared only with managers. They were public knowledge, as much a part of an employee’s Google identity as the job description. The OKRs appeared on every employee’s biographical information on MOMA, Google’s internal website.
Note: Google makes all okrs public to everyone
The Startup Owner’s Manual Strategy Guide (Book 1) Last annotated on January 14, 2014