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Remembering a modern master of messaging

Novelist and humanitarian Toni Morrison, who died on August 5, left behind a legacy of writings that serve well as examples of how to tell a story with heart. Although described as a black American female writer, her writings can best be called universal for their simple elegance.


Just connect


By creating characters that are cherished for transcending time, nationality and other particulars, Morrison made connections with readers that will outlast her. She knew her material by heart, wrote from her heart, and connected with a sense of subtlety and authenticity. She defined knowing your material as an investment in time. Time spent in research, editing, reworking, all the way along, keeping in mind the audience, and how what was said would impact them.


What’s not said


By knowing backwards and forwards what did matter, Morrison was able to reduce what was said to an elegant minimum, creating spaces for readers to jump into and imagine things themselves. Many great advertisements do the same thing. As does negative space or white space in photography and art. Master jazzman Miles Davis thought of this as power of the notes that are not played. Conscious omissions allow audiences to read between the lines, capturing key messages without being blunt or prescriptive.


Show, don’t tell


Morrison suggested storytellers avoid ‘thrilling sentences’ and let the plots unfold in pauses in the action that allow readers to become a part of the narrative themselves. By not overdoing it, Morisson delivered powerful themes in ways that respected the reader, choosing what was not said as carefully was words that were used, effectively allowing audiences to draw their own conclusions, which can lead to greater impact.


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