Michael Pollan on narrative journalism

From Michael Pollan’s comments in Nieman Narrative Digest:

“Journalists often write as people who have mastered subjects and are telling you about them. That’s a real turn-off for readers. In my work I often begin as a naif. It’s a good place to start because it’s a lot closer to where your reader is. Instead of starting as someone who knows the answers, you begin as someone learning about something. That’s a good way to connect with readers.

“I often underscore my ignorance in the beginning of pieces. By the time I write my lead I’m not ignorant, but I can begin my story at the point where I was. I’m not lying; I’m playing up where I was when I started. This way I’ve got the drama, as I said above, of learning.”

“One of the important keys to narrative journalism —and it flies in the face of most newspaper training—is that you have to withhold. You can’t put all the best stuff in the first column. No one’s going to read to the end once you’ve used up all your best stuff. It’s a tricky principle: How do you withhold and get readers interested, hooked? Plus, how do you avoid being coy? This is a real challenge, but you have to hold off some important information—and signal what you will get if you come along for the ride.”


Filed under craft, technique, journalism, narrative, NOTED, Persona, Voice, POV, structure

4 responses to “Michael Pollan on narrative journalism

  1. John

    Each and every tidbit is received & welcomed.

  2. Pingback: Any memoirist’s dilemma « NARRATIVE

  3. The drama of learning, I like that. Very interesting and helpful thanks for posting this.