Silk underwear and deep reporting

Greta Garbo stipulated in her contract that the studio had to provide her with silk underwear, said The New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. Producer Louis Mayer questioned having to spend money for that luxury when she didn’t even take her clothes off in films.

“No one will see the silk underwear,” Mayer said.

“But I will know that I’m wearing it,” Garbo said, “and it’s going to change the way I act.”

Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo from WikiMedia Commons.

Orlean cited the anecdote in her “Creative Nonfiction: Write Truth with Style” online course as analogy for deep reporting. Orlean said the writer “should know much, much, much more than what they offer the readers.”

“The reader, without being aware of it, is going to be affected by the knowledge that the writer has.”

“Every sentence will be informed by all of that luxurious amount of information.”

That is such great advice. It’s certainly more resonant than “gather more information than you think you’d need.”

The question on how much research one needs to do for a story was raised when I talked to Marlen’s class in UP Cebu. I told the students to never fall into that conceit of thinking you have enough because when you do start writing the story, you will eventually find out that you needed even more research, additional interviews. Gather more than what you think you’d need. Get that silk underwear.

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