Hello – I’m changing my routine a bit with Writing Whims. On Mondays, I’ll post my tips and thoughts about writing. On Wednesdays, I’ll be featuring other writers – please see the note below about Author Wednesday. On Fridays, I’ll post book reviews. Sometimes I might be reviewing a book by Wednesday’s author, or I might review an old favorite, a new release, or the most recent book I’ve read. I’m hoping this will prod me into moving through my pile of hard copy and Kindle books.
When I began working as a reporter, my whole concept of writing changed. Much to my chagrin, I realized what I taught as a high school English teacher mattered little to writing in the real world.
So I adjusted and formed my own style as I wrote articles and columns and dabbled in the world of fiction. My first newspaper editor always stressed objectivity in reporting as most real newspaper people do. Soon enough, I discovered objectivity is the ideal, but it’s not the reality.
I learned about journalism in the field under deadline. I covered the politics for a small yet growing town in north Florida. When Walmart set its eyes on a town willing to give incentives for building a super center within the city limits, the locals took sides. My job was to report on both sides objectively, even though I had a definite opinion about the monster stepping on the midgets. I wouldn’t have been able to write the preceding sentence in an article about the project, but I sure could decide how I presented my piece, even though it appeared to be objective.
For instance, if someone on the Walmart side yelled, “You’re a good for nothing tree hugger,” I could lead with that statement and continue with the rest of the meeting. But what if that comment was preceded by, “You’re a cheater and a liar out to destroy this town by bringing in Walmart,” and as the reporter, I chose not to include that in my article? As the reporter, I’ve suddenly become subjective, but no one is the wiser except the folks at the meeting. It happens all the time.
As writers, we have tremendous power in the simple presentation of words, sentences, and paragraphs. We choose the examples we use in both fiction and nonfiction. We design characters to suit our needs and opinion. We design scenes where our point is abundantly clear by what good or bad things might happen to the protagonist or antagonist.
We don’t need to shout. We only need to show. In my novel Trails in the Sand, I present the real life drama of BP’s oil spill and the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster. Even though I have a definite opinion about who’s responsible for the deaths of men and wildlife in both tragedies, I tried not to shout it from the rooftops. But I chose what news articles I quoted, and I presented the material from the perspective of an environmentalist through the main character, Caroline. I tried not to shout, but I certainly wasn’t writing an objective novel.
This week on my first Author Wednesday, author Rachelle Ayala writes a guest post about her newest novel Hidden Under Her Heart, which presents one view of abortion. I’ll review the book on Book Review Friday.
Ms. Ayala shows her opinion quite clearly in her novel, but she’s not shouting. And because she didn’t shout, I listened.
I also learned another lesson in those early years of my writing career. When folks on each side of the Walmart issue presented their position, they were usually shouting. No one heard a word because the other side was shouting just as loud. Even though I had my own opinion on the project, I soon discovered I didn’t want to be associated in any way with either side.
I stopped listening.
Do you believe there is such a thing as objective journalism or is it just a good example of an oxymoron?
NOTE: I’m looking for writers – published or not; Indie or not – to feature on Wednesdays in Writing Whims. Author Wednesday will include guest posts and interviews with authors in most genres and at most stages of their career. Please leave me a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’d like to schedule a feature. I’m booked through the end of May, but I’m looking for authors for June, July, and August.