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Monday
Jul112005

Tip X: Add Color

I know that I've just advised you to write tightly. That means taking out any extraneous stuff. However, that doesn't mean your story should read like an SMS.

I always remind non-fiction writers that even though we write about real world people and events, ultimately, we are still storytellers. The qualities that make up a good story still need to be in our articles. That's why it's important for you to add color to your stories.

An effective way to add color is to use vivid details where appropriate. When you describe something or someone, make a point to provide a sense of place, a sense of the personalities involved and a sense of time, so that the readers feel like they are actually there.

Below are some comments by journalists from various publications on how they use detail to add color to their stories:

“In a good story, a paranoid schizophrenic doesn't just hear imaginary voices, he hears them say, ‘Go kill a policeman.’”
– David Finkel, The Washington Post

“You ask the questions: What was it like? What did it feel like? Take the reader where he cannot go. What is it like in those woods? What is it like on that island? What is it like in that person's dreams? And you do that by accumulating every bit of meaningful detail and using it where it seems appropriate. It's what you leave out sometimes that is as important as what you put in.”
– Carol McCabe, The Providence Journal

“When I sit down to write a story, I want people to see the story, I want people to feel what I feel, hear what I hear, taste what I taste, smell what I smell. So those are kind of the basic Writing 101 things that I'm using. The colors, the smell, the marked-up pages of his Bible... Oftentimes, when I'm in these situations interviewing people, I have a finite amount of time. As they're speaking and the tape recorder is rolling, I'm writing down these details all the time. It's like, what am I struck by? Her kitchen is perfectly clean. It's black and white. A little girl sitting in her high chair, but she's not eating her Cheerios, all the things that are happening around me...”
– DeNeen L. Brown, The Washington Post

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