Narrative: What is it? How can science writers use it?
Monday, February 4, 2013 from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM (EST)
Woods Hole, MA
We writers like to toss around the term "narrative," but what we mean isn't always clear. Discourse theory tells us that narrative is one of four rhetorical modes, the others being exposition, argumentation, and description. Webster calls narrative "a representation … of an event or story" — which reflects common sense but passes the buck. For what is a story? Most would agree that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a story — two or three, in fact, woven into a single fine narrative. Yet we might argue over whether, say, Richard Dawkins' brilliant description of the rise of the "replicator" (the first gene) also constitutes a narrative; or whether a narrative requires people; or whether narrative can be driven mainly by ideas. In this session we hope to demystify what narrative is so we can better discuss how to create it. First we'll spend a few minutes trying to define narrative in a way that broadens but firms the concept into something actionable. Then we'll talk practice. Why or when should a writer/journalist use narrative? How does one transform a topic into a story? How do we conceive, report, structure, and write to enliven this story. How do we create a sense of movement through time, of tensions raised and (maybe) resolved? How must we do our reporting to turn an abstract idea into an earthy narrative? Drawing on a few prime examples and the experience and perspectives of the moderators and audience, we'll aim to firm up a working definition of narrative and send everyone out with a list of practices and skills needed to create one. Hashtag: #ScioStory. Freelancer T. Delene Beeland took the narrative challenge in first book, The Secret World of Red Wolves, to be published in spring 2013. David Dobbs tilts narrative in his pieces for the New York Times, National Geographic, and other magazines, and in his book-in-progress The Orchid and the Dandelion.
When & Where
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans' role in the changing global environment.