Advice from the Masters: Jacqui Banaszynski

Aug 3, 2016 | Better Writing

Jacqui Banaszynski wrote the chapter “Stories Matter” in Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. That’s where I got the quote from Katherine Kanpher that was last week’s Advice from the Masters.

While I was researching that piece I discovered the “Banaszynski Beer Rule.” Actually I didn’t find the rule itself. I found references to it. I found praise for it. But no rule, at least not in usable form. Then I found Rebecca Dell’s piece, “The Banaszynski Beer Rule: Storytelling lessons from Jacqui B.” Here’s how she described the rule.

She’s told the story before, and Jacqui Banaszynski, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and Poynter Institute, will no doubt tell it again:

Back when Ann Bancroft (the explorer, not the actress) dogsledded to the North Pole on an otherwise all-male expedition, Banaszynski, then a reporter writing a profile on Bancroft for the one-year anniversary of the trip, set up an interview with her. The problem was that Bancroft didn’t want to be the token woman on the trip, so she refused to talk about the gender element. She’d been covered in every other way possible, it seemed, and in desperation, Banaszynski turned to a crusty, ex-Marine editor and asked what he’d ask Bancroft over a couple of beers.

“I wanna know,” he said, “how she peed.”

And with that question, awkwardly phrased during a stiff interview, Banaszynski captured Bancroft’s interest. Suddenly, Bancroft opened up to talking about aspects of being a woman versus a man on the expedition. And Banaszynski coined the crowdsourcing Banaszynski Beer Rule: What would you ask Joe Mysterious over a beer?

There you have it, a summary of “Banaszynski Beer Rule.” As a former Marine, a beer lover, and a writer, I think the rule makes sense. I can only add: if you ask the questions everyone else asks, you will get the answers everyone else gets. That is not the road to distinction.

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts

If you want even more writing advice from writers, check out Jon Winokur’s blog, “AdvicetoWriters.”

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