People have always told stories, with words and symbols from hieroglyphics to Twitter. But what makes a story unforgettable?
The New York Times reported a story some weeks ago about an avalanche at Tunnel Creek, in the out-of-bounds area adjacent to Stevens Pass ski area in Washington. The story was a horror—the violent and tragic catastrophe that befell professional extreme skiers.
From the very first sentence, you knew the outcome. But you couldn’t stay away. The writer lured you with tension and suspense. As he set the scene, introducing each character (so to speak), he infused each portion of the story with a haunting sense of dread. You had to keep reading.
I had already read most of the newspaper’s print edition when I realized there was also an online counterpart, which amplified the storytelling with complete interviews, scientific information, and chilling live footage from the actual event. Think of the writers’ axiom “show, don’t tell.” With this journalism package, you got both.
The Tunnel Creek piece has stayed with me. As with any story—fiction, memoir, theater, journalism—you have plot, setting, character, rising action, climax, then some sort of conclusion, resolution.
Here, you meet the people who enter the scene, you get the back story, and you witness the decisions that pivoted each of them toward—literally—life or death. In this story, the most potent character is the snow itself, the giver of bliss, the shape-shifter, the savage.
For me, this story had three distinct pieces: the people, the place, and a pivot—a critical decision. Like skiing, it’s all about the turn.
I wish it had been fiction.
Why do we need to read this piece, this dazzling example of long-form print journalism, paired with the richness of digital storytelling? With this story in particular and in general, why do we need to read and write and tell our truths?
From the ancients to the tweeters and everyone in between, we have a basic need to share our stories. The hilarious, the grief, the triumph, regret—all this and more glue our human community.