When can I write narrative?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

Dear Coach,

I desperately want to write a narrative. My editors keep telling me that I can start on one when my daily beat work is done. But my daily work is never done. Should I give up, or should I go to another newspaper? — Never Finished

Dear Never Finished,

Hold on here. You’re talking about narrative as if it’s somehow different from journalism. Most good journalism is narrative.

Can you disappear from the newsroom for three months to write an 800-inch hulking gorilla? The answer, given the size of most newsrooms and nature of most beats, is no. And your readers don’t want you to.

But can you write narrative? Absolutely.

Narrative means telling a story — with a beginning, a middle, an end and a point. It doesn’t have to be 800 inches and full of flashbacks and foreshadowing.

To see examples, check out early Toronto Daily Star dispatches in “Byline: Ernest Hemingway Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades” (1967, Scribner).


Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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