Nailing the Structure: 4 Questions with Line Vaaben

Interviews

Line Vaaben is a prize-winning writer and editor for Politiken, the largest daily newspaper in Copenhagen. Her work has been published in several textbooks, and she teaches narrative and longform journalism. She is also the author of a book about femicide in Denmark.

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned as a writer?

Working with structure. When I was young — and more arrogant I guess — I thought I didn’t have to do outlines. But I was so wrong! The past ten years or so, I have worked intensively with structure, and it has made my writing process faster, less painful and my stories so much better. I use a one-word theme and Post-Its to do my storyboards and it has made a huge difference.

I wrote a piece about it for Nieman Storyboard: https://niemanstoryboard.org/stories/sticking-a-story-together-and-nailing-the-structure/

What has been the biggest surprise of your writing life?
That I never seem to run out of stories to write. When I was new in journalism, I remember being worried about having enough ideas, or others writing the stories before I got around to them. I was much more in a hurry. But as time has passed I realize that life is so rich and full that writing about it in new ways is a neverending love affair between me and reality. No need to hurry. Stories are all around.


If you had to use a metaphor to describe yourself as a writer, what would it be?
A squirrel comes to mind. For one, I am a very energetic and fast-moving human being. But also, I often feel that I am gathering material like nuts when I am reporting: As many details, scenes and bits of dialogue as possible, which I stack for later use, so that I have a lot of good bits to choose from, when I reach the writing process. Like a squirrel, putting aside lots and lots of good nuts with important energy for a long, cold winter.

What’s the best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Paying attention to the ending! Not only because it is so important, what you save for last, as it is the reward to the reader, for hanging on. But also because it has forced me to think much harder on the whole structure of my piece before I write. If you want a great ending, you must build up to it. Which means asking yourself what you actually want to say and what central question is driving the story. I owe this revelation to Tom French BTW, who really opened my eyes to the importance of endings.

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