The Yellow Test is the headline for a New York Times column today that offers great writing advice.
I would strongly encourage reading the entire piece, but here’s an excerpt:
Carrie is a professor at a university. She had asked me how to turn an area of her expertise, secondary school education, into writing that the general public would find rewarding and enjoyable. That’s when I began talking about scenes, using her accident as an example of how to approach her work. Almost all creative nonfiction, essays or books, are, fundamentally, collections of small stories — or scenes — that together make one big story.
There’s been a lot of research published about the effectiveness of stories. Readers remember information longer — and are more likely to be persuaded by ideas and opinions — when it’s presented to them in scenes. This is why so many TV commercials are narrative. Think of parents’ angsting over how to pay for their children’s college tuition in the Gerber Life College Plan ad, or the famous “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up” spot, campy, but so successful that the phrase itself has been copyrighted by the sponsor.
I told Carrie about the exercise I assign my students: “The Yellow Test.” You pick up a book by your favorite nonfiction writer or leaf through a best seller that made a big impact. Take a yellow highlighter and color in the scenes — that is, the places with characters and action, where things happen. I promise: You will find you have highlighted a major portion of the text.
I’m adding this to The Best Digital (& Non-Digital) Storytelling Resources.