On Making Sense of Things

I’m in the middle of a major project for my day job, and am not going to write a review tonight. Instead, I’ll just note an observation I made while struggling with the structure of the feature I’m writing. I spent hours today rolling the same events around on paper — the same facts, the same quotes, the same details. It was strange to realize that there are almost infinite ways to tell the same story. No matter how hard I try for the truth, I will always be responsible for filtering the events as I see them.

This is the source of some of my fascination with story. Sometimes, an event happens and I can’t get enough information about it. I ask 20 people the same questions about it, and then go back and ask them all again. I get to where I know everything I can find out about the event, but there is something I’m still chasing. I haven’t quite turned it the right way yet and figured out what it means to me. Some events really resist being packaged and understood. I like the work of Paul Auster, because I think he writes about this latter sort of event.

Fiction like Auster’s tries to describe the experience, but I have it the most strongly when I’m writing nonfiction, and am confronted with the strangeness of creating a story with facts. There is something about that process that feels contradictory, and yet it’s the most fundamental storytelling experience.

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