Make sure your quotes help tell the story.

It’s important to be selective about the quotes you use in stories. Too many stories get larded with quotes that don’t advance the story, quotes that provide information rather than insight into a character, a cause or a theme. Our advice: Paraphrase the informational quotes with attribution; tell the story in your own words. Use only quotes that help move the story.

We were encouraged to see a strong ear for storytelling quotes in recent clips. Kerri Macdonald for the Queens Courier went to a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Astoria with Tony Bennett and made his quotes sing:

“The fact that in Life magazine he called me his favorite singer – I’ve never gotten over that,” said Bennett, who was born Anthony Benedetto 83 years ago. “So that’s where it’s at. That’s why this school is called the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts,” added Bennett, whose quip got a laugh out of Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy.

Kerri also captured another musical hall-of-famer, Quincy Jones, at his pithy best: Jones offered the students some words of wisdom that Frank Sinatra once gave him, “Live every day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right.”

Kerri wasn’t the only CUNY reporter to dance with the stars. Megan Finnegan for Irish Central interviewed actress Julia Stiles, who’s starring on Broadway in David Mamet’s play, “Oleanna,” in which her character confronts a professor with whom she had a sexual encounter. But the play’s about more than that, Stiles insists, and Megan lets her quote end the story: “It goes beyond sexuality,” says Stiles. “There is no right and wrong in this play.”

Using a quote to end your story isn’t always the best way. But when it neatly summarizes your story, it’s a good strategy. Jessica Dailey in the Brooklyn Eagle used a quote to end her story of how a new school playground/park worked for both students and residents in Crown Heights. She quoted 76-year-old Florencio Cruz, a longtime resident, to suggest how the new park has revitalized the neighborhood.

Cruz, who remembers playing baseball on the lot when it was just dirt, said the new park gives the community a safe place to spend time. “The neighborhood has a bad reputation. I used to be afraid to walk around,” he said. “But now we have this. My wife and I can walk here and feel safe.”

Kristen Joy Watts did a delightful post for the New York Times Lens blog on a former newspaper photographer, Dave Yoder, who made the transition to fashion photographer. She made us smile at Yoder’s memory of his first day on the new job:

Mr. Yoder’s initiation to his new subject was unceremonious. He showed up with a few cameras, and, standing in the middle of the fray backstage at his first show, suddenly realized he was in a room full of mostly naked women. He panicked, thinking that he was in a lot of trouble. “I thought somebody was going to spot me,” he said. But he quickly learned that there is a code of honor backstage. Photographers avert their lenses while the models are changing, and if they don’t, the other photographers present will make sure that they do.

Instead of quoting Yoder at length on his first day, Kristen tells his story. That’s far more effective writing than a long quote. The quote she uses acts as a springboard into the rest of what the photographer learned that day. But when she hears a storytelling quote from the fashion photographer, she lets him speak in his own words: “When I was working on newspapers, we called publication the daily miracle. Fashion week is the hourly miracle.”

Now that’s storytelling.

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2 Responses to Make sure your quotes help tell the story.

  1. Pingback: Megan Finnegan » Blog Archive » How to make celebs sound smart

  2. Heath Meriwether says:

    I called Kerri Macdonald “Kelli”in my first reference. My sincere apologies to Kerri and a reminder to always double check your work. I should have noticed that I had “Kerri” in other references, and that there was conflict. Again, my apologies.

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