James B. Stewart’s Follow the Story is one of those writing books where the central question is “Do you like the work of the author?” If the answer is yes, you are going to really enjoy the journalistic lessons shared by Stewart. If you are less impressed or enamored of the non-fiction as narrative school of writing, then you are probably going to have some objections to what he tells you. Stewart was breaking ground in the form made popular by Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm.
The book covers a very specific form of Non-fiction writing and that is the ability to frame the story in the form of a mystery or an anomaly with the end goal of unraveling the mystery. The central theme is that people are curious, so you should use that to your advantage. He is not wrong, but he does open that his story strays from the general class of Non-Fiction to that of feature, as in made for a feature film. If anything, this could be a book on writing a three act play. In fact, some of his chapters focus on leads, transitions and dialog.
You might gather that I am not a big fan of this book, but I actually think it is very good. For a feature writer looking for tricks on salability, this is a fantastic book. It is a very good cookbook for the non-fiction feature targeted for magazine market with the intent of extending to a long form such as a book. The mechanics are clearly explained and he speaks from authority using his own work as examples.
This is worth a read if you are a commercial writer, and the subtitle to the book explains its objective clearly “how to write successful nonfiction” with an emphasis on successful as in commercial. This book is also solid if your work is focused on the real world (crime fiction for instance) or you are looking at dramatic forms. For the emotional or literary writer, its value is less direct.