I love good writing, especially when it shows up in newspapers. So do you, or you wouldn't be a subscriber. People who read, read newspapers. They read books, magazines and matchbook covers, for that matter. And the perceptive readers have found that nestled within the columns of the Deseret News are a whole lot of good writers plying their trade, telling good stories.
The nice thing is that many times these writers are like friends. You can identify their stories without reading the byline:This hardly seems the time for anyone associated with the Jazz to get uptight. The fact remains the Jazz are in a dead heat with a team generally considered the best in basketball, a team whose coach guaranteed another NBA title this season, and a team with the highest per-capita income this side of the Rainiers of Monaco.
You take the above paragraph to the bank and write it on a withdrawal slip. They'll say, "Yep, you're Lee Benson, all right." Then they'll give you all his money.
That's the way Lee writes. It's why his peers have chosen him the top sportswriter in the state more times than Edwin Meese has been before a judge.
Now, at considerable risk of alienating many of my friends whose work isn't quoted, I've clipped some recent examples from a few Deseret News writers at work. My apologies to all the rest whose work I admire.
Newspaper writing is pretty straightforward. We have a story to tell and we want to do it as efficiently, impartially and impersonally as possible. But once in a while the writer is allowed to get personal:
There I stood, my gray matter churned into a gooey glob. I'd fooled myself all those years, but there wasn't any fooling "Jeopardy" contestant searchers Ingrid Hirstin-Woodson and Susanne Thurber - any more than, say, Josef Mengele could fool Simon Wiesenthal. - Chuck Gates.
A lot of beginning writers make the mistake of trying to tell too much of the story, instead of letting the story tell itself. There's a natural, easy flow to a good story, and the wise writer goes with it:
On Christmas night, surrounded by remnants of the holiday festivities, dinner aromas lingering in the air, Dorothy Megalonakis took more than 100 anti-depressant capsules - medicine she'd been hoarding - and began the laborious process of putting herself to bed for the last time. - Lois M. Collins.
When we readers actually see an event, we want to know if others saw it the same way. That explains part of the popularity of theater reviews and sports stories. We want the writer to give our impressions legitimacy. Here's someone who understands that:
So the Lakers are still the Lakers, after all. Just when they were in serious danger of having their season of destiny end in the NBA quarterfinals, the defending champs stood up in the third quarter Sunday afternoon. - Kurt Kragthrope.
Sometimes a newspaper writer gets to write about exotic places and events. When that happy day comes, you can feel the writer donning a tone and pace that fits the subject:
On the grassy slopes of Rano Raraklu, the great stone statues sleep, their sightless eyes blind to all that has happened since their journey to the sea was interrupted so very long ago. Their world is gone: a world of simple beliefs and enormous tasks, of isolation and imagination, of a culture left alone to develop and devour in strange and untold ways. - Carma Wadley, writing of Easter Island.
And once in a while the writer finds himself writing of people closer to home - your neighbor, perhaps, doing something extraordinary. These are the best kinds of stories, and not surprisingly, they bring us our best response:
When teachers gather their students around them, they talk of equations, participles, amoebas and amphibians, the stuff of essay tests and quarterly grades.
The lessons that life tests you on - stamina, service, persistent hope - fit awkwardly into the structure of the school day.
Except in Kathy Knigge's class. - Marianne Funk, writing of a cancer-stricken teacher.
Newspaper writers often cover a beat, where happenings are fairly predictable. They become close to the people they cover. It's important to give readers a feeling for the personalities of newsmakers, especially when the unpredictable happens. How to do it? A good writer lets you make up your own mind from the details he provides:
From the day they watched him take the oath of office, reporters became used to seeing Dave Watson sitting with his stocking feet propped on his desk, leaning back and talking loudly on the telephone.
Occasionally, he would put one hand to the side of his mouth and bellow "Elaino!" to get the attention of his secretary, Elaine Carter. - Jay Evensen.
Some writers' style is so distinctive no one can copy it. I like a witty approach coupled with astute perceptions. A smart reader, recognizing that style, sits back and enjoys the experience:
Howard Rock lives in a mobile home, just west of the Van Winkle Expressway. The mobility is just an illusion, of course, because the house isn't going anywhere. But the notion that you could drive it somewhere is appealing.
Rock, 71, has been intrigued by motion most of his life. He built an airplane when he was 15 and then tried to fly it down Redwood Road. The thing never took off, a non-event for which Rock has thanked the good Lord many times since becoming somewhat more practical. - Elaine Jarvik.
The message in all this? Simply that behind those gray columns of type are people who really care about our language. We can learn from them. Sure, these are only newspaper stories and not many will end up in anthologies. But you'll find plenty of good reading here, even if we don't write like novelists.
I take that back. One of us does. A few years ago, we ran this:
The storm had been a seasonal footnote for two days, but snow still shrouded the cold landscape. George Smiley, wrapped prudently against the December chill, stopped his stroll among the university arboretum's naked trees, raised his worried, bespectacled eyes and pondered the frazzled tracery of branches.
"Sir?" the new arrival said. "Mr. Smiley? I'm from the press." - Ray Boren (with apologies to John LeCarre)
Now that's writing. Hot dang!