Human interest stories matter

February 16th, 2011

Consider the impact of the spoken word. What would happen if you read a story only for the quotes?

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/01/30/arts/design/20110130-graves.html?ref=design

Quotes tell the story at Michael Graves' studio

Years ago my first editor shared a bit of advice I’ve never forgotten: Fill your story with quotes. She suggested a reader experiences the essence of any article from whatever transpires between quotation marks.

It was a challenge I embraced. Back then, as a journalist, I relished the opportunity to write human interest stories. I looked for the human face behind even the most tedious hard news issue. I knew a strong interview can break a story wide open. When people talk about what they do and why they do it, there’s often a subtle invitation: “Come closer, I have more to share.”

I was reminded how the human side of a story connects us in unexpected ways when hearing Tim Girvin speak recently. Girvin notes “every brand is for a human. Brands are made by humans for humans.”

Consider Michael Graves. His brand is rooted in architecture. It shows up through products sold at Target and Disney World. It is expressed now in art where we come to know Graves more intimately. His story unfolds in a recent New York Times profile through quotes from the subject and his observers:

“The paintings just go on and on.”

“I think it will surprise people. There’s his beautiful color sense, but it’s also interesting how his space is almost cubist, rahter than going back in classical Renaissance perspective.”

“I thought it would be interesting for me to arrange my buildings in a landscape that would be not unlike [Giorgio] Morandi rearranging his bottles every week to paint them.”

“These are my memories of things seen and reinventions of things seen and understood.”

“Quite a few architects have painting up their sleeves … and for Michael, because color is so important to him, it’s especially appropriate.  At the same time, his architecture has become hugely popular on the global scene — he’s achieved a measure of international fame that, quite honestly, takes him out of the architectural sphere altogether.”

“When you’re painting, you start with the sweep of the landscape, but then as you start to recompose it and fill it in, you often find yourself painted into a corner.  The escape from the corner — that’s the best part of it, the most exciting moment.”

Listen for how people describe the value of the work they do. Listen for the quotes that tell the story. At the beginning and end of every thing made is a human. What happens in between is a story. Keeping the story human makes it worth telling.

Posted February 16th, 2011

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