Conventions of Literary Journalism

How you can write your own literary journalism stories

So now that you know what it is, you can learn how to create it yourself.

According to the book Telling True Stories, Mark Kramer, former director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism discusses what makes literary journalism so powerful.

“Journalism that doesn’t assume the reader is a robot, that acknowledges the reader knows lots and feels and snickers and gets wild.” Kramer stresses the importance of voice. Readers have their coffee with the newspaper in the morning, he says. They want to understand and even identify with the news voice; but regular news reporting is anonymous and restrained, leaving the reader feeling lonely.
When you have an audience made up of so many disparate sorts of people it seems noble to appeal to the lowest common denominator and just talk about the facts. But what happens is depersonalisation of the news voice — narrative journalism aims to put the human voice back at the breakfast table. Kramer defines narrative journalism as writing that contains many of the elements found in fiction.

1. Setting

2. Characters

3. Action

4. A unique voice

5. A relationship with the audience

6. Theme or a purpose or reason the story is being told.

All of these things are largely absent when it comes to conventional journalistic stories. However, you can find most of these conventions in an fictional story. Perhaps this is why I love fiction. It immerses you in that world that is different from the one you know. It opens your mind to new possibilities and perspectives.

Being an expert in Narrative Journalism, Kramer also discusses the different rules and conventions that come when writing Literary Journalism. He lists them in his article Breakable Rules for Literary Journalists.

  1. Literary journalists immerse themselves in subjects’ worlds and in background research.
  2. Literary journalists work out implicit covenants about accuracy and candor with readers and with sources.
  3. Literary journalists write mostly about routine events.
  4. Literary journalists write in “intimate voice,” informal, frank, human and ironic.
  5. Style counts, and tends to be plain and spare.
  6. Literary journalists write from a disengaged and mobile stance, from which they tell stories and also turn and address readers directly.
  7. Structure counts, mixing primary narrative with tales and digressions to amplify and reframe events.
  8. Literary journalists develop meaning by building upon the readers’ sequential reactions.

It is these set of breakable rules that set this form apart from traditional forms of journalism. Following these rules will definately get you on the right track to writing literary journalism. However, my own piece of advice would be to read fiction as well as creative nonfiction to get more of a sense how stories can be told. There are so many different ways!

If you want to give this a shot and write your own story. Personally, I would love to read it and consider it for submission here at Duluth Immersion Journal. You can reach out to me on the D.I.J. Facebook page or Twitter page, as well as contacting me via the email listed on the About Us page here on Medium. We are always looking for more stories that need to be told.