Diana Henriques’s Advice to Journalists Seeking to Captivate Their Readers
“In that short scene, Mark Madoff’s tantrum basically summarized five chapters from my book,” Diana Henriques said about the FBI interrogation scene in the HBO film adaptation of her book, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust.
As the first keynote speaker at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, Henriques’s speech revealed a startling conclusion: today more and more people have to be entertained to read in the news. However, this gives journalists the wonderful opportunity to explore the world of technology and expand our skill set in telling stories to make journalism more engaging. While it may be disheartening thinking about the fast-paced, consumerist society we live in, it forces us to get creative, get our hands dirty and push the boundaries of storytelling from the inside out.
Henriques also pointed out that despite writing about financial investigations, Henriques adopts principles of screenwriting for journalism, even looking at weather reports for Washington D.C. to set the scene for the delivery of the Blue Ribbon Commission Report to President Reagan, which is a key event in her account of the 1987 Stock Market Crash. She emphasized the importance of contextual narrative and building the scenes through subtle descriptions of the time and place and through the pace of her writing. Relayed in her keynote speech, Henriques provided essential advice to journalists endeavoring to immerse their readers in their work.
“Read the pages aloud so the pace doesn’t lag… but
is it the right pace?”
One anecdote she used describes her last-minute rewrite to readjust the pacing of her book A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History. When she got the page proofs back to do a final look over and catch the typos, she “was appalled it did not move quickly enough.”
Immediately she called her editor who told her to, “do what you need to do.” She looked to other authors to aid in her revisions and concluded the likeness she most desired was none other than thriller, crime fiction writer, Lee Child.
Page by page, she worked to provide a fresh and invigorating air to her novel. Henriques’s attention to detail when establishing scenes addresses the importance of a succinct and purposeful narrative: to entertain and inform readers.