Adam Hochschild focused on the basics of writing narratives. Pick compelling characters and breathe life into them. Think in scenes, as if you were a filmmaker. Create suspense by strategically withholding information or by setting up and then delaying conflicts.

During the question and answer period, he offered some bit of advice to a young woman in the audience, but then added a cautionary note about sourcing: Details in the narrative must be checked for accuracy with the same care any journalist would use.

Listening to him tell stories about the footnotes and side mentions that led him to other great stories, he reminded me more than anything of a detective chasing down leads.

Hochschild’s magic was no sleight of hand, just old-fashioned detective work followed through to extraordinary ends. —Ellen Sung, an online reporter for

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