What’s the story?

On occasions when I give workshops on science writing, I generally at some point ask the participants what makes a story. I imagine this feels like a trick question: “He wants us to say, ‘Something with a beginning, middle and end’, but then he’ll say that we’ve forgotten the lede or the nub or the kicker or something.”

But I ask the question in a fairly true spirit of open enquiry. It’s probably the part of the writer’s job in which I have the lowest self-confidence, identifying the story. Or what makes a good story for other people. I know what I like, but I fear sometimes that my tastes are rather esoteric, and not in an interesting polymath way, but in a more niche, potentially closed, and ephemeral way.

So in a bid to understand more about stories and what defines them, I went along to The Story, an event about stories, in which people tell stories, tell stories about stories, and tell stories about story-telling. This was my first time at The Story but the Conway Hall felt like a comfortable(ish) space in which to reflect on my own practice and to enjoy other people’s at the same time.

The programme is just a sequence of stories, interrupted by coffee breaks and lunch, from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. I was with several colleagues, which was nice, although I think I could just as easily have sat anonymous in the hall without collegiate accompaniment. As it was, I deserted the social opportunities at lunchtime, preferring to wander in the light snow that was falling and eat my packed lunch on a park bench in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, reading Granta, and reliving hundreds of previous lunchtimes from when I worked there. Read the rest of this entry »