Journalism is changing at warp speed, but there’s something eternal at its core: Humans will always have a need to explain themselves through story. And magazines, whether in print or digital forms, still provide some of our most meaningful, memorable stories. Many of them fit into the genre known as “long form.” This quarter, you will learn to:
- Appreciate the role long-form journalism plays at a time when we write in 140- character bursts.
- Understand a magazine’s needs for stories, which come in many shapes and sizes, particularly in the context of how a young writer can get published.
- Successfully pitch articles to a publication’s editor.
- Report and write a magazine-length story, either a true narrative or one that employs narrative techniques to a large degree.
How we will work – The course will alternate between a seminar and a workshop, using a process that professional writers undergo with their editors. You’ll prepare detailed story pitches, which we’ll review in class and in one-on-one meetings. You’ll write outlines, scenes and character sketches. I will edit each version of your story, working closely with you through every step. At the same time, we’ll read examples of superb writing to inspire us.
Individual sessions – Each of you will meet with me for a personalized editing session every other week; some of these sessions are built into the class schedule, while others will happen outside of class. Because we have just 10 weeks, we’ll need to get started right away on choosing your story subjects.
Narrative writing assignment – There is one dominant assignment, accounting for 60 percent of your course grade: to report and write a magazine article of roughly 2,000 words. We’ll work on it all quarter and aim to publish the best online via the Peninsula Press and its professional partners (and perhaps print publications, too).
Grading – Story grades will based on revised versions, not on first drafts. An “A” or “A-” goes to a publishable piece, characterized by a tight, coherent structure, thorough reporting, nuanced observation and powerful word choice. “B+” or “B” work is solid on all of the above, and would be publishable with more revisions. “B-” or “C” stories fall short on one or more of the elements above.
Process matters – For the narrative assignment, your work will be evaluated on both the process and the final product. Our process includes story pitches, outlines and multiple drafts. A strong pitch takes many hours of reporting, so start early. Be prepared to chase several ideas at the same time, realizing your first choice might not pan out for reasons beyond your control.
Deadlines – Assignments are due in my email box by 4 p.m. on the assigned dates:
- 4/20: Narrative story pitch
- 5/4: Front of the book (FOB) pitch 5/18: FOB piece due
- 6/4: Final version of narrative due
Story Format – Stories must be double-spaced, filed by email and include the following: slug, version number, page number and reporter’s name.
Guidelines – Please approach class in the way you would work with an editor and colleagues in a newsroom. Avoid distractions, be prepared and collegial, show up on time and meet all deadlines.
Readings – There are two required texts:
- Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call
- Into The Story: A Writer’s Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, by David Maraniss
In advance of class #1 — Please read:
- “Far From Home, a Mother Shares Triumph” by Amy Argetsinger.
- “Feature vs. narrative: what’s the difference?”
Mon. 4/2: Opening Day
- Survey of assignments, readings and learning goals.
- Inside a narrative, part 1: “Far From Home, a Mother Shares Triumph” (2004).
- Conversation with the writer, Amy Argetsinger, using Skype.
For next class: assignments and readings, see below.
Readings — Come to class #2 prepared to discuss:
- “The Desk I Chose to Die Under,” pp 50-64, Into the Story: A Writer’s Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, by David Maraniss.
- “Sourcing in New Yorker’s ‘Getting bin Laden’ story”
Weds. 4/4: Deeper Into Narrative
- Inside a narrative, part 2: “The Desk I Chose to Die Under” (2007).
- Conversation with the writer, David Maraniss, using Skype. Importance of sourcing transparency in narrative reconstruction.
Readings — Come to class #3 prepared to discuss:
- Telling True Stories: Part I, pp 3-16; beginning of Part II, pp 19-28
Mon. 4/9: Ideas, Ideas, Ideas
- Where and how to begin to find good story ideas.
- Tips for gaining, and maintaining, access to your subject(s).
- Initial survey of your ideas/interests/topics.
Readings — Come to class #4 prepared to discuss:
- Telling True Stories: pp 28-51
Weds. 4/11: Interviews, Observation and Immersion
- Discussion of Isabel Wilkerson’s essay, “Accelerated Intimacy.”
- Lessons from Ann Hull’s essay, “Being There.”
- Checking in on your exploratory reporting.
Assignment: By now you should be under way in exploring ideas for your narrative story, conducting interviews you’ll need to craft an effective pitch and spending substantial time observing your subject(s) in her or his world.
Readings — Come to classes #5 prepared to discuss “story pitch” materials (to be distributed in class).
Mon. 4/16: How to Pitch Your Story
- Step-by-step advice on story pitching from award-winning magazine writer Christine Larson.
- Introduction to front of the book magazine pieces.
Readings — Come to class #6 prepared to discuss:
- “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” by Robert Draper.
- “Behind the Cover Story: Robert Draper on Mitt Romney”
- “The Palin Network” by Robert Draper.
Weds. 4/18: Visiting Writer — Robert Draper
- “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” (2011).
- “The Palin Network” (2010).
- Conversation with guest speaker Robert Draper.
Readings — Come to class #7 prepared to discuss:
- Telling True Stories: Part III, pp 65-85
Mon. 4/23: Review of Pitches
- Editorial meeting: story pitches. Details to come.
Readings — Come to class #8 prepared to discuss:
- “Stripped for Parts” by Jennifer Kahn.
- “Connections,” pp 21-30, Into the Story: A Writer’s Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, by David Maraniss.
- “ … Consultant Tells (Almost) All” by R.B. Brenner.
Weds. 4/25: First Person
- “Stripped for Parts” (2003).
- “ … Consultant Tells (Almost) All” (2009).
Readings — Come to class #9 prepared to discuss:
- Telling True Stories: Part IV, pp 97-121
- “The Great Escape,” pp 111-119, Into the Story: A Writer’s Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, by David Maraniss.
- Weaving “story” and “idea” together.
- Summary vs. Dramatic Narrative.
- Endings; narrative as mystery.
- Art of the outline.
Readings — Come to class #9 prepared to discuss:
- “Six Tips for Crafting Scenes” by Laurie Hertzel.
- Telling True Stories: Part V, pp 125-159
Weds. 5/2: Scenes
- Gathering vivid detail on long-past events.
- Sequencing; being in control of pace and time.
- Use of dialogue.
Assignment: Front of the book story pitch due on 5/4
Mon. 5/7 & Weds. 5/9: One-on-one meetings
Assignment: In advance of individual consultation, prepare a detailed outline of your long-form narrative story.
Mon. 5/14: Living “La Vida Freelance”
- Magazine writing as a business.
- Contracts, payments and the nitty-gritty of selling articles.
- What careers in journalism look like today.
Weds. 5/16: How Technology is Changing Magazines
- Guest speakers to be announced.
- How the iPad and other tablets are changing storytelling.
Assignment: Front of the book story due on 5/18
Mon. 5/21 & Weds. 5/23: Peer editing on your current narrative story draft
Mon. 5/28: Memorial Day (No class)
Weds. 5/30: TBD
Assignment: Final version of narrative due on 6/4