Humans of NY: How Our Curiosity Connects Us

Humans of NY: How Our Curiosity Connects Us

 

The portrait on Instagram shows a young woman with long, dark hair and glasses looking away from the camera.

"I thought we had a close family until my grandmother died without leaving a will,” reads the caption below her photograph. 

It’s just one of thousands of images shot by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton. We don’t know much about this young woman, but this snippet of a story tells us a lot about her and her family. 

Stanton began the HONY project in 2010 with the goal of photographing 10,000 New Yorkers. As he wandered the streets of NYC taking photos, he began asking his portrait subjects about their lives and recording their answers. He then posted the portraits along with a quotation from the interview online. 

Some of the stories are happy, quirky and inspiring, as couples recount how they met and a single mother proudly proclaims her child goes to Yale. Others are infuriating or upsetting, as the subjects admit to deceiving the ones they love or spending money they should give to their kids on drugs. 

Millions of people now view Stanton's photos and read his stories on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the HONY website. There’s a HONY book, too.

Why I hate jargon (and you should too)

Why I hate jargon (and you should too)

I have a confession to make: I hate jargon. I really, really hate it. 

It could be because I worked as a journalist for 10 years and regularly read press releases filled with clunky corporate words like incentivizesynergy, deliverable and impactful — words that don't mean much outside of a corporate setting. Sorting out what these press releases were really trying to say was a lot of work. Sometimes, I didn't bother.

An editor of mine taught me a lot about jargon after he heavily edited a story I wrote about a minor crime. I'd inadvertently used the police jargon from the original press release.

"What does "the male fled on foot" mean?" my editor asked me. 

"It means the man ran away," I said. 

"Write that." 

What family histories can teach us about storytelling

What family histories can teach us about storytelling

I come from a family of passionate storytellers and fastidious record keepers.

My dad in particular has a talent for telling stories, weaving tales about his time as a lineman on the B.C. railway in his youth. He tells stories of boulders blocking tracks, Portuguese dynamite specialists and dark train tunnels.

My mom has a bookcase stuffed with photo albums we've spent hours leafing through. Her jewelry box once held our baby teeth, our birth certificates and our immunization records. She held onto her notes from her university classes and I often inspected her round, tidy writing.  

I kept lengthy, detailed diaries as a teenager, although I can't read any of the moody missives today without cringing or laughing. 

Storytelling: Don't tell me, show me

Storytelling: Don't tell me, show me

When I started writing professionally, I received the same advice over and over from editors about how to tell a captivating story.

“Don’t tell me," they said. "Show me.”

For people not used to writing or weaving stories, this advice might not make any sense. Showing your readers (or your customers, clients or donors) something, rather than telling them, is the difference between stating a fact, and using details and circumstances to make those facts real.

It's the difference between saying "that house is old and needs repairs" and "the mid-century ranch house leaned awkwardly to the side, with crumbling bricks dotting its exterior like acne pockmarks."

The first sentence tells you something. The second brings it to life in your mind and keeps it there.