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What Makes a Great Narrative

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| May 3, 2022

There isn’t a sole factor, so let’s take a peek at a few.

When you’re reading a terrific piece of writing—whether it be in The New Yorker or a rant on Nextdoor—you kinda just…know when it’s good. But not everyone’s tastes are the same: There are a myriad of reasons why both Philip Roth and Danielle Steel have sold tons of books.

Here at The Doe, we have a distinct mission (anonymous stories) but don’t adhere to a specific narrative writing style. Our authors are who they are; we hope their voices come through in their articles. So let’s take a look at a few of my personal favorites and try to figure out what makes them so special.

The Inside Look

I don’t know about you but I’ve: A) Never served time at San Quentin or B) Had the novel coronavirus inside of San Quentin.

This narrative came to us after a lot of legwork and offers a perspective that, frankly, you can’t find anywhere else. To boot, the inmate is a tremendous advocate for the incarcerated—especially through his words.


The Vivid Experience

Normally, it’s a real headache when a writer goes over our typical word count. (We prefer that our columns come in at anywhere from 800 to 1,400 words.) We have several rounds of edits, image gathering and CMS work to consider—all of our personal narratives touch several hands in our department.

But this one, well, we liked it long. “I Was a Heroin Junkie: Inside the Opioid Crisis” takes a vivid look at an issue plaguing our society in a way that only a person who lived it could. It’s quite a ride, firmly planting you in a front seat to an issue you may have just passively taken in through the ephemeral window of national news.

And I know this is pretty confusing since I just said it was one of our best stories, but please don’t send us an article of this length. Love you, thanks!


The Fabulous Headline

This one started with a great pitch—important note: all solid narratives start with a solid pitch—and an even better headline: “Mom at the Wheel: My Time as a Drug Runner in America.”

See: You already know what it’s about.


The Professional Touch

We pride ourselves on being the first place where many of our writers have published material. But we don’t shy away from contracting writers who have bylines at top international newspapers, magazines and websites. 

Here’s one from someone who will always be known to you as Delia Bathwater. And how about an excerpt? “The appeal of the past is that it is not today, and a hard drunk will eliminate the pesky truths, perhaps the fact that the day in question was no better today but four drinks in, who can really say? The past never arrives with all of its tags and details and full transcripts. It’s always a fragment, soaked in whatever we had in hand.”


The Comedic Touch

Because so many of our stories trade in weighty subjects (see above), it’s always a breath of fresh air to take in a funny narrative. And it’s even better when it’s unexpected, nuanced and relatable.

Try this one on for size. It’s called “I Have Been Defeated by My Pants.” Me too, man. Me too.

Each of these narratives did have one thing in common: They were personal and unique to the writer. I truly believe that everyone has a story to tell and could do so on The Doe. So go ahead and give one of these tactics a shot. Share your story—our lines are open.


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