The National Magazine Awards Foundation is all about celebrating Canadian creators and storytellers. Our mission is to recognize excellence in magazine writing and art production.
At the NMAF we tip our hats to the storytellers who skilfully fill the pages of Canadian magazines. To highlight the hard work and meticulous crafting that goes into creating an NMA-winning piece we’ve produced a portrait series of this year’s winners and nominees, discussing what makes for great storytelling.
“The key to great storytelling is respect for the person whose story it is that and a willingness to develop that trust with them as well as a recognition of the responsibility that you carry as a storyteller. Good storytelling is a way for us to connect to somebody else’s reality. It can capture us in reflecting on an experience we thought was unique to us and that we discover is universal.”
“I really appreciate development of plot at delayed intervals, when the writer can suspend action, but still keep interest in the development of the story. I find that fascinating. That works really well to keep the reader attached to the story as it unfolds.”
“A great story is when I have a lot of different kinds of information coming to me, so I have the person telling me what they remember or what they went through or what they think and I also have documentary evidence, so I see medical records or I see emails from the time or contracts or documents or official letters. I like the detail.”
“If you do a good job in the investigation, the story almost tells itself and so you have a sense of story while you’re doing the investigation. I think another thing, too, that makes for a good and important story is finding people who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak.”
“Storytelling is uncovering stories that haven’t been told or finding a new way to tell those stories. In our world, we write a lot about inanimate objects, buildings and bridges, so we rely on good storytelling, simply because we’re not writing about people. We’re writing about things that have been around for 100 years, so it’s about getting that hook in there and getting that hook in there early.”
From left to right: Haley Cullingham, former Editor-in-Chief; Jennifer Varkonyi, Publisher; Anna Minzhulina, Art Director; Daniel Viola, Editor-in-Chief. Daniel Viola (right), Editor-in-Chief: “For me (scenes are) what separates what’s going to be a good story from a great story and a really great story, because that’s what’s interesting – people are interesting, events are interesting. You need to be able to have both the ebbs and the flows of the story, great scenes, research to back it up, all of the context needed, but it’s knowing the role of all these different elements of storytelling and how you put them all together to make an 800-word story or a 2, 000-word story and how you adapt to the length that there is.” Anna Minzhulina (seated), Art Director: “I think that art and the words, they should exist together, but at the same time they should exist separately and individually as well. It’s not necessarily that art should be an illustration of what the story is word-by-word, but it should be an interpretation, not a narration.”
“I think that’s the key to any good storytelling is the listening part, so you need to hear what they have to say and take the time to consider it and string it together. The best part is to have many different voices to make sort-of a tapestry of voices. I think that’s the key to storytelling.”
“I think an underdog makes a great story, because cheering for somebody that you know is going to win is not interesting and exciting. What’s gripping about storytelling is the unexpected and I think most of the time the unexpected is when somebody who doesn’t win, somebody who doesn’t get to talk, somebody who gets ignored finally gets that chance to talk, to win, to say something.”
“It’s through the language of emotion and how we connect as humans that you can tell stories through photography. I think I’m always trying to dig deeper into that level of what people are feeling and where they’re at, at that moment. It’s from being there and immersing yourself in the story that you start to recognize those moments that tell it because you’re side by side with the people who are experiencing it.”
“A great story is when someone, through their artistic intelligence, creates a beautiful shape out of hours or weeks or months or years of total chaos.”
“It all starts with a recipe. The recipes that are in the magazine that are on the cooking show and all of the stuff that you need to make those recipes is available in the store. You walk through the store, you can buy everything that you see on the show, in the magazine; you walk into the restaurant, you will be served the food that is in the magazines, on the TV show – it’s just this symbiotic universe.”
“We try to be indispensable to our readers with our service journalism and we try to be very relevant through our other stories, and just give them a great read, where they sit down and it puts them in the moment. It makes them feel like they recognize that moment and they’re there.”
“(The key to great storytelling is) timelessness! A story that transcends time, that can be told today that’s pertinent to today and that people know that it happened in this era, or you can tell it 20 years from now and people can still glean universal truth from it.”
“You need tension to make it an interesting story. (The most important thing when writing profiles) is that there are as many levels as possible within that person, from public persona to inner struggles. No one’s a simple story and so what you have to do is create that trust so that people will bare those levels of tension and it’s a gift when someone does that with you.”
To learn more about the award winners and nominees from the 2016 awards program, please visit magazine-awards.com. You can also follow this photo series on Instagram (nationalmagazineawards) or by following us on Twitter @MagAwards.
Credit: photos taken by Steve Goetz; interviews conducted by Melissa Myers.
Full Coverage of the 39th National Magazine Awards
Complete articles of all nominees and winners
Complete list [pdf] of all nominees and winners
Full text of Kim Pittaway’s speech
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