May 6, 2003

Narrative effect

Many people like to play down the role of craft in weblogs, and it's almost heresy to talk about craft in the digital storytelling world, where being "natural" is prized above all.

But craft matters. Look, for example, at Alwin Hawkins account of a rough weekend. The gist of the entry is: "I haven't been posting much, because work has been busy." You see this very note in weblogs all the time. Here's one from Kottke.

Good morning! It was a helluva weekend, as you could probably figure out from the paucity of postings here.

Last night was one of those Sunday Night Specials that cap off the WeekendFromHeck frequently. Hammered by admissions of incredibly sick heart patients, we gave as good as we got.

My own trial consisted of a woman who blew out a papillary muscle , causing her valve to flail wildly and putting her into cardiogenic shock . We took her to the cath lab and stuck a balloon pump into her to get her blood moving round and round again. While in there, we found that most of her vessels were nearly completely closed, forcing us to 'hold the fort' until we could roust the open heart team out of bed to do a combo bypass and valve job .

In the meantime, the patients continued to come, and we continued to fix 'em and put 'em to bed. Lovely time, but I was glad when I saw the sun start shining in the windows.

Yeah, we all survived, both nurses and patients. And that's all it takes to make it a good morning some days.

Now, this isn't fancy writing, it's not meant to be poetry, and if there's any affectation here, Hawkins is writing down, not reaching. But look again at how this is put together. We begin in the morning (title: 7:35, post timestamp 9 am), and we begin by revealing the end. Then back to the start of the weekend. Leap forward to last night. Then the main story, followed by a flashback ("the patients continued to come, and we continued to fix 'em"), and then the wrap-up.

You can write this well (and this with this kind of complexity) without thinking about it, without theory or study. But thinking is always good.