What can Jack Hart’s Storycraft teach us about writing?

Photo of Storycraft front cover

What’s the hardest line to write in any story? The opening line. Get it wrong and few people will hang around long enough for you to make amends. Jack Hart knows this and so he starts his book with this line in the preface:

‘Nearly forty years ago a police reporter walked into my Northwest Magazine office and pitched a story.’

Storycraft, p. ix

I often skip the preface, foreword, writer’s and editor’s notes, impatient to sink my teeth into the actual story. Jack Hart, a long-time editor, university lecturer and writing coach, probably knows this too and so when he writes a preface, he makes sure it pulls you straight in. And once he gets you hooked, he holds tight until you’ve read it all.

What you may not know about Storycraft is that it’s not a crime novel or action-packed adventure fiction. It is a ‘Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction’. And it’s masterly. Hart not only tells you how it’s done, he shows you how to craft a good story with every one of his paragraphs and chapters. He has us learn from the best writers and journalists he’s either coached as an editor at the US daily, The Oregonian, or those he’s learned from and admired himself. At one point, the story he was pulling apart for the learner’s benefit got so poignant that I felt myself well up. How many guides can make you do that? 

The theory, guidance, tips, anecdotes and examples of story creation are all there, as you would expect, but what sets Storycraft apart from other guides on the subject is that it manages to show you, through its own narrative, how best writing works and how it makes us feel as readers. 

The only thing that slightly jarred with me when reading it was that whenever the author returned to a book, story or character he’d already mentioned, he would explain again who or what it was, or which chapter we’d met them in. For a fairly perceptive (and impatient) reader this felt like too much hand-holding – I prefer a writer who trusts me to follow their beat. (Storycraft has a handy index for when your mind draws a blank.) But maybe that’s just my copy-editor’s hat that I couldn’t quite put aside.

When I’m thinking of Storycraft the term that keeps coming up is ‘page turner’. As I’m learning how to see the bigger picture in story writing and help writers craft their stories, I find Jack Hart an excellent, inspiring teacher and his book a real pleasure to spend time with.  You can buy it from University of Chicago Press or Bookshop.org, the online bookstore that supports independent booksellers.

Photo of Storycraft front cover
Jack Hart’s Storycraft on my armchair. (c) 2021 Kasia Trojanowska.

How to find an editor

You’ve done the hard bit – you’ve laboured on a manuscript for weeks or even months and now you’ve started to think about publication. But you know it needs editing and so you start looking for an editor. With countless individuals offering their services, as well as a great number of editing companies, how do you know where to start? Here are some tips.

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Why is there a typo in my book?!

Imagine this – you just bought a book. Still fresh from the bookshop, you open it on the first page, start reading and suddenly, an odd-looking word catches your attention – whoa, why is this word here?! You think about it for a brief second and then move on, because the book is interesting and you want to know what happens next. But wait, you get to page 2 and now there’s a full stop missing… and then there’s an extra comma a few pages on and then a funny-looking word break… What at first seemed like an innocent typo is now starting to bring up questions; you’re getting fed up with the book. Why is this typo here?! I’ll never buy another book by this author!, you think to yourself. But before you throw the book on to the rubbish heap, let’s look at a few reasons why there may be typos in an otherwise carefully produced text.

Continue reading “Why is there a typo in my book?!”

What makes a good copy-editor?

open book
Copy-editing is an adventure the author takes you on

I recently spoke to students on a publishing degree about the roles of copy-editors and proofreaders. One of the topics we covered was how to become a copy-editor. And it’s an interesting question, because it touches on something I’ve been thinking about for a while – what makes a good copy-editor? Knowing your grammar, BSI mark-up and having an ‘eye for detail’ are obvious answers, but I also believe that there are certain qualities that a good copy-editor can try to practise – these will allow her to work with, not against, the author. I can think of four; let’s look at those. Continue reading “What makes a good copy-editor?”