Nora Ephron: Writing Stories On and Off Screen

Nora Ephron begins her essay with her usual instructions to aspiring screenwriters, “Do not become a screenwriter, become a journalist.” Her reasoning is that, after years of telling stories for the news, one can understand more of the world and how to tell a story about it. As a reporter for The New York Post, an afternoon paper, Ephron had to find a feature-like angle for her stories. Ephron’s skills in both writing for the post and later in narrative journalism helped when she became a screenwriter and had to further her story-telling skills.

“Too few journalists become screenwriters. I say to all the would-be screenwriters: Become journalists. An I’ll say to working journalists: Do not stay journalists. Become screenwriters.”

-Nora Ephron

But Ephron feels she also would have benefited in journalism from the skills she learned as a screenwriter. She realized stories are not mere happenstances, but rather events influenced by one’s narrative. She learned the crucial elements of a story’s structure: the questions of where the classic beginning, middle, and end begin, end, and transition between on another. Her writing of the screenplay for the film Silkwood led her to understand how to make psychological changes in the real-life character of Karen Silkwood be palatable to an audience. She learned new methods of story-telling, methods which she added to the ones she had carried with her from her time as a journalist.

Ephron also carries with her a lesson on story-telling, that methods from various mediums complement one another and come together to tell a bigger picture than even the screen.




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