Thursday, September 26, 2013

If you want to write better, start watching Columbo reruns

That's the seemingly unorthodox advice from journalist Shahan Mufti in this New York Times 6th Floor column (subscript. req).  But Mr. Mufti makes a strong case that by observing Detective Columbo at work, you'll learn everything you need to know about developing the skills of a good writer.

Want to Write Better? Watch ‘Columbo’

Over the years, as a writing student and as a working journalist, I’ve received all sorts of advice from teachers and mentors and colleagues. There are timeless tips like “Write what you know” or the even simpler “Rewrite.” There has been other advice tailored more to the moment, like “Start a blog” or the similar but more dubious “Build your brand online!” But in the midst of all this mostly practical advice, the wisdom of one writing mentor has always stuck with me: “Watch ‘Columbo’ reruns.”

. . . .

Columbo is a master of reporting. To begin, he is polite. Regardless of whether he was talking to someone he knew, to a murderer or to a victim, he never failed to respect a source. He was relentless. He never stopped asking questions until he had everything sorted cleanly in his head. And most important, in the end he was always humbled by the reality he had been able to reconstruct. He never got cocky. Since facts are the essential ingredient of any work of nonfiction, and the truth is what all writers strive for, “Columbo” reruns are the perfect inspiration. I did watch some old “Columbo” reruns during graduate school and my early reporting career, but to be honest, I never really thought that they impacted my work.

Continue reading here.


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