Journalists tell stories – that’s what they’re paid to do.  Sometimes they have to go dig out the story, because the facts might be hidden, intentionally or otherwise.  Sometimes they’re just interpreters of the facts that are public.

In either case, they are telling stories that communicate something.  Good ones communicate well, and draw the reader/listener into the story.  The great ones tell the story so well that it becomes ingrained in us, part of our internal thought process.  It helps to come close to that thought process, to tell a story in the way we think it or perceive it.

Good storytellers have a sense of what works, and what doesn’t.  I read Jerry Pournelle’s blog, and enjoy it.  He’s a good storyteller, and has several best-selling books.  He also has an essay “How to get my job” as a professional writer.  The essence of his essay is that you should write a million words of finished (ready-to-publish, best-you-can-do) material.

One of the things you will learn as you do it is that time progresses forward from the past to the present.  There are all sorts of time travel exceptions, and flashbacks, and memories – but in essence, time flows forward.  The punch-line comes at the end of a joke, even if it’s a reference to an earlier event.  The hero is presented as a small boy, and then grows up.  Superman started on Krypton, and then came to Earth.  There is a progression.

That’s why this sentence is so jarring to the eyes and ears.  It’s from a story about a town in Michigan that is broke, and the changes they’re going through.

The police department has been reduced to two from three.

No, no, no!!!!!  Tell it in order – the department has been reduced from three to two.  People want to know the before and the after, and in that order.  Otherwise it’s mental gymnastics to reverse the numbers internally and see the change.  Doing it chronologically allows the change to be experienced, not abstractly understood.

If you’re telling a story, whether a joke, an essay, a term paper, or a newspaper article, make it easy for your reader to follow.

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