The 11/22/10 Newsweek featured an article “Amazing Race” by Malcolm Jones, about Laura Hillenbrand, author of the 2001 bestseller Seabiscuit and the critically praised 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Admittedly, I’ve read neither, though the latter sounds more like my thing. (And Hillenbrand’s personal story is fascinating in its own right.)
A line in the article glowed for me: “Unbroken is wonderful twice over, for the tale it tells and for the way it’s told.” This almost word-for-word recalls something my college film professor said circa 1991 and which burned a permanent brand on my brain: “It’s not enough to have a good story. You need a good story, well told.”
This is why a story that may feel dramatic as a person lives it, and may seem dramatic when that person retells it, won’t necessarily translate into a dramatic story on the page. In making the transition from an anecdote or an idea to the permanent record, every story needs a special touch, to refine it so it shines all the way through, not just when the light hits it just right.