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The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  229 ratings  ·  41 reviews
“A splendid book for journalists (new or old), fiction writers, essayists, and critics. But it could also be of great use to the intelligent common reader, the man or woman who wonders why it’s impossible to finish reading certain stories and why others carry the reader in a vivid rush to the end.”
—Pete Hamill, author of A Drinking Life


In the spirit of Strunk and White’s
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Harper
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Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was drawn to this book because it had the words "story" and "non-fiction" in the title - two opposites in the traditional view. I found the book an affirmation of what I had always suspected but had never read anywhere else: that at the end of the day, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, the power of the story is what grabs the reader, and the elements of story do not change despite the genre.

In short chapters, each covering a necessary element of story, this book banished the cobwebs and re
Jørgen Carling
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: communication
This was a very inspiring and enjoyable book. I read many books about writing, and this one added something distinctive, I think. On the whole, I enjoyed the author's voice. Unlike many other authors of books about writing, he takes care not to let his ego overshadow his message (thus following his own advice). All his examples are from the NY Times, and many of the issues he discusses are specific to journalism. However, I think the book has broader appeal. My own writing is primarily academic, ...more
Erica Cresswell
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Review--The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in writing nonfiction or looking to improve their nonfiction skills. It was written by Francis Flaherty, an editor at the New York Times for seventeen years. The book is heralded by the Library Journal as “an essential read for both freelance writers and students of journalism.”
This book covers it all--from adding a human face to your story to add impact to nailing down just the right
Saundra Goldman
Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, essays
Pearls of hard-won wisdom and experience from New York Times editor, Frances Flaherty. Every chapter delivers at least one sage piece of advice with examples from the greats. Flaherty is a wonderful writer himself and clearly enjoys playing with words. I've been reading a chapter or two before I sit down to write. ...more
Dana Sobh
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone who's interested in writing.

Will take with me the lessons learned from this book wherever I go... :)
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: work, reviewed
One of my favourite books for capturing the romance of the writing craft as well as the craft itself.
This isn't just a style guide, it's a manual for how to be a copy editor at the NY Times (as Francis Flatterly was at the time of writing). The book has stories on using language - be precise in what you show as well as showing - and editing - think of your story like a tree, pruning the branches lets the trunk grow.
I've given several copies to people as gifts.
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting to learn what constitutes good news articles. Now I can identify why I choose not to read a given article. I'm not sure we'll be continuing our subscription to the local paper.

I enjoyed the advice on writing stories, especially the examples from the author's editing experience at the New York Times.
Jessica Cote
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I first came across this book in one my college courses. But like every college student I threw it in the back of my closet and never dug through it. I never opened a page of this tiny book full of miracles for a writer. It took being out of college before my hands graced the covers of this gem among my collection.
The book is a meager two hundred and seventy four paged piece of worth it. Its written to help writers learn how to form better non-fiction books or articles. But I’m finding the juicy
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely readable book that zings along. The author portrays the elements of non-fiction writing very well - how to centralise on human elements, focus on the pacing, use show and not tell, and to watch the pacing of a piece. There are also chapters on each part of an article (writing leads, posing questions for the reader, incorporating transitions). Brief but enjoyable.
Mark Mathes
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Whether you write nonfiction or fiction, this book is for you. About 50 helpful, short chapters to charge creativity, solve a problem or drive through a rut. The author is a New York Times editor who certainly knows the craft of storytelling.
Chad CG
This book is great for bringing creativity and imagination into the world of journalism and non fiction writing. As a someone more interested in fiction writing, I still found a lot to take away from this book.
P.J.S. Martin
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: other
A field guide to words

. . . and how to use them to tell true stories. The title of Flaherty's guide to nonfiction writing plays on Strunk and Whites The Elements of Style Illustrated which famously captured the essence of writing with precision in a very few words. Flaherty's "Elements" take a few more words to document because he is dealing with bigger subjects--story themes, characters, plot, and action that make up the whole story for non-fction writers, who for Flaherty are newpaper journali
Dec 01, 2011 rated it liked it
A good book for nonfiction writers, especially those interested in journalism. Perhaps to cut and dry, in terms of reporting, for literary nonfiction writers.

A few thoughts from the book I found interesting to mull over:

"Only a short distance separates bright and trite."

"If writing is about anything, it is about seeing things fresh."

"'Sound' what you mean," in reference to the sonic quality of word choices.

"Every word you write, the reader must read."

"Let words bewitch you."

"Sometimes, say thing
Michael Clemens
Oct 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though it's geared at the journalist and at non-fiction writing in general, the nature of story-telling is applicable to fiction as well. Fiction writers, after all, have the (un)fortunate experience of seeing their characters come to life and be independent creatures, with motivations, histories, and language all their own. As a fiction writer, it takes little imagination to put yourself in the role of the roving reporter, sussing out the story from the witnesses, find the title that will grab ...more
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This has been a wonderful book to savor, and , so it has taken me several years to get through it. Hundreds of short 2- 3 page chapters on all aspects of nonfiction writing. Examples are primarily journalistic. Flaherty is a super writer, so the way he expresses his concepts are a pleasure to read too. Sections on leads, endings, titles, content, telling the truth - finding authenticity in your writing -- and finally a wonderful surprise at the end where Flaherty argues why we should try writing ...more
Dec 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to write better non-fiction
Shelves: writing-books
I stayed up much too late reading this book. The length of the chapters made it easy to read just one more.

Francis Flaherty believes that every article, whether it's about finance or medicine or anything in between, is a story, with actors who feel things and do things, and the key to good writing is to identify and bring out the human elements.

The book, though aimed mostly at journalists, contains practical advice on crafting interesting stories that all writers can use. I would definitely rec
Hanje Richards
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, nonfiction
This was an interesting approach to the subject of writing. The author addresses 50 problems of story (as opposed to problems of style that Strunk and White focus on in the classic Elements of Style)in 50 short chapters. All the ideas a applicable to most kinds of writing. The author's background is journalism, but the reader is invited to see how the problems he addresses could be applied to fiction, non journalistic nonfiction, memoir and more.

I think this is a workhorse of a book. Not a bad b
Krista Stevens
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
Great resource for those who want to tighten up their writing regardless if they are journalists. Short, snappy chapters - no-nonsense great examples. Could be applied to any kind of writing. References famous writers - keeps it interesting. Good for high school through adults. Example of details in a paragraph..."Strong, stronger, strongest - it's the written equivalent of a musical crescendo" - p. 94 ...more
Ava Butzu
Nov 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great bits and pieces of advice for journalists and aspiring journalists to fine-tune their writing. Rather than simply delivering formulas, Flaherty explains the purpose for his suggestions and exposes possibilities within each area of his focus, from leads to interviews to syntactic considerations.
May 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
Early part of the book was intriguing for parts of story (pacing, what's relevant, etc.). Found the leads section boring, but I'm not aiming to write journalism or for a newspaper, so that makes sense. ...more
Aug 09, 2012 rated it really liked it

Flaherty's introduction to non-fiction writing is worth reading for anyone who enjoys the craft of writing. A highly functional, fun, and engaging book, Elements of Story draws attention to the construction of the larger narratives of even non-fiction writing.
Isla McKetta
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Written for journalists, this book presents an interesting slant on the standard writing how-to. I do wish, however, that Flaherty had spent more time working out some of his cliches, because the language doesn't always have the same energy as the ideas. ...more
May 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
I can't post a review here because I wrote a review of this book for Library Journal .

Out June 26.
Sep 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
For those interested in the art of journalistic writing, this is profound. No surprise considering this author/editor's resume. ...more
Oct 11, 2009 rated it really liked it

If only I could have finished it before the library snatched it back into its clutches. We shall meet again someday, friend.
May 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
good in the overall sense, not a detail book but a thoughtful one
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it
This book made me so happy. An excellent kick in the pants for anyone who can— and does, repeatedly, often, always— fall head over heels for words.
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. I need it on my shelf in order to refer to it often.
Sep 15, 2011 rated it liked it
some great lessons about writing here. you have to think hard to remove the concepts of feature news reporting, and apply it to other kinds of writing or media creation.
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