Quotes on human interest

What writers and others say

“Show them the forest; introduce them to a tree.”
— William Blundell, author of The Art and Craft of Feature Writing

“Some adjectives — such as ‘ashen,’ ‘blond,’ or ‘winged’ — help us see. But adjectives such as ‘enthusiastic’ are really abstract nouns in disguise.”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools

“When we say of a real person that he or she is a ‘character,’ we usually have in mind someone who stands out from the crowd. Maybe she only wears the color purple. Or perhaps he reads the dictionary for pleasure. Such eccentricities help us see the person in action, but also give us a peek inside the person’s personality.
“When we call a real person a ‘character,’ we also mean that the person is colorful enough to be a player in a work of fiction. In fiction, of course, details of character can be drawn from real life and can be fabricated. In nonfiction, we have no such privilege. Journalists have only the raw material of real life to draw upon in forming the shape of a person on the page.”
— Roy Peter Clark, The Poynter Institute’s senior scholar and author of Writing Tools

“Where do character details come from? Here’s a good starting list from Tom Wolfe: ‘the recording of everyday gestures, habits, manners, customs, styles of furniture, clothing, decoration, styles of traveling, eating, keeping house, modes of behaving toward children, servants, superiors, inferiors, peers, plus the various looks, glances, poses, styles of walking and other symbolic details that might exist within a scene.'”
“For us, a great placement isn’t our name in the headline, but a really great story that draws readers in, with us as the solution or call to action. The great stories are about the Breast Cancer 3-Day walkers, and we consider every walker to be a celebrity.”
— Sarah Ferguson, senior account manager at Barkley

“It seems hardly necessary to prove the importance of human interest … [P]eople are most interested in other people.”
— Rudolph Flesch, creator of the Flesch Reading Ease formula

“Keep it people, stupid.”
— Karen Friedman, television reporter turned media trainer

“The least successful profiles merely rehash the subject’s resume chronologically, and that resume squeezes out the interesting stuff, even if the reporter has it in the notebook. The writer starts typing the resume paragraphs; runs out of time, energy and space; and the juicy bits die spiral-bound. The best profiles include two or three interesting aspects of the person, which sometimes contradict and always transcend the resume.”
— Don Fry, faculty member at The Poynter Institute

“You can’t write human-interest stories from your sofa.”
— David Fryxell, editor, Writer’s Digest

“Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.”
— Ernest Hemingway, American novelist and short story writer

“The hardest thing to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn.”
— Ernest Hemingway, American novelist and short story writer

“People fall in love with people, not statistics. … Stories with people in them tend to attract more than those without.”
— Peter Jacobi, professor emeritus and Adjunct Riley Lecturer at the Indiana University School of Journalism

“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest. Long life stories are best received in bars, and only then an hour or so before closing time, and if you are buying.”
— Stephen King, prolific novelist, in On Writing

“When you meet somebody who bores you, you have to put up with him until he leaves. But when you meet a boring character, you turn the page.”
— Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and 39 other novels

“It is very difficult to make people out of words.”
— Larry Leonard, Oregon writer, quoted by Jack Hart in A Writer’s Coach

“I was … listening to Tom Stoppart being interviewed on the radio, and at one point he said: ‘Good God. I just realized. It’s about people. It’s not about metaphysics.’ The reason we love the books we love — it’s the people. It’s the human mud, the glue between us and them, the universal periodic table of the human condition. It transcends.”
— David Mitchell, author, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

“The campaign against cancer, [father of modern chemotherapy Sidney Farber] learned, was much like a political campaign: it needed icons, mascots, images, slogans — the strategies of advertising as much as the tools of science. For any illness to rise to political prominence, it needed to be marketed, just as a political campaign needed marketing. A disease needed to be transformed politically before it could be transformed scientifically.”
— Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

“Story begins best with character. We read because we become involved with characters, we remember stories because of characters. As writers we need to develop characters that are believable as well as physically and psychologically complex; characters that writer and readers feel strongly about, in a compassionate way. We report what characters do and how they do it so that the characters reveal them selves to us and to our readers. We need to see the characters physically, in action.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work

“[Good writers] tell not of a battle, but of a soldier, they talk not about governance, but about a deal, they discuss not a socioeconomic group, but a person and a life.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work

“Recounting tactical movements of troops in the course of a campaign will convey little of the reality of battle to a reader. But show that reader one soldier on one patrol; reveal that soldier’s solitary, personal encounter with gore and glory, disaster and dread; and you can drive home something of what it all means. The soldier’s actions are concrete. The doings of his battalion are abstract. It is the difference between a casualty count and someone’s dead body.”
— William Ruehlmann, author of Stalking the Feature Story

“The sorrows of humanity are no one’s sorrows, as newspaper readers long ago found out. A frisson of horror may go down one’s spine at wholesale destruction, but one’s heart stays unmoved. A thousand people drowned in floods in China are news: a solitary child drowned in a pond is tragedy.”
— Josephine Tey, author of The Daughter of Time

“Readers love money makeovers — those profiles of real families that get into the gory details of how much credit card debt they owe and how far behind on retirement savings they are.”
“Most of the appeal is voyeurism, but the popularity of these profiles illustrates how important a real, live, breathing person is when you’re trying to write about personal finance. People who would yawn at a headline about the nation’s woeful savings rate will stop and read every word if you’re writing about how Jane Minski of Oak Grove can’t pass up a sale.”
“You can definitely boost your readership and better drive home your points if you include more real people in every story.”
— Liz Pulliam Weston, MSN Money columnist, writing on BusinessJournalism.org

“Don’t write about man, write about a man.”
— E.B. White, author of the writer’s “bible,” The Elements of Style
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