July 6, 2020

Ep. 6 Dave Herndon: How to Tell Your Story

Ep. 6 Dave Herndon: How to Tell Your Story

Tips from a Recovering Magazine Editor

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If you want to be a better writer, this episode is for you.

My guest Dave Herndon is an accomplished non-fiction editor and writer, with nearly 40 years of experience at quality newspapers and magazines. We asked him for a few writing tips, which turn out to be good advice for delivering information and storytelling regardless of medium or platform. Dave stresses the importance of outlines, so here’s a somewhat shrunken version of his outline.

  1. Ask yourself the most important question: Who cares? 
  2. What’s your story in a nutshell?
  3. How are you going to tell your story? 
  4. DO AN OUTLINE! Identify key elements of story: The lead/intro; the nutshell; the body; scenes, characters, quotes, key info, etc. Herndon refers to a famous example in this outline, Gay Talese’s storyboard for a famous profile of Frank Sinatra. And here’s the final piece, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.
  5. Write like a craftsperson--assemble the pieces as you outlined them--and let the art take care of itself, in the process of rewriting/self-editing.
  6. Take it from the likes of Tom Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway: set a reasonable quota for a day, and stop hard when you reach it. Wolfe set himself a quota of 1,000 words a day. That doesn’t mean you have to. The next day, self-edit the stuff you wrote the day before and pick up in the midstream.

Herndon referred to two examples of craftsmanship that represent solutions to different interviewing/writing problems. He wrote a piece about Ted Turner, A Turning Point in Turner Country, but only had 20 minutes with TT. See how he deployed a scant inventory of quotes to create the impression that Turner himself is helping to tell this story.

Another piece had the opposite issue: Herndon had lots of access to the subject--who died while he was writing it. So the story had to change in mid-process, with the stakes raised considerably. The piece is titled, The Voice of the People, about Andy Palacio.

Links Mentioned In This Episode

Contact Dave Herndon




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Music Credits

Dope Digging by Martijn de Boer (NiGiD) (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial (3.0) license.