Assignment for Sept. 21 and 22

Part 1: Identifying Story Structure

This week we learned about editing an article for structure and helping a writer identify a structure suited to the story. Please read the following articles and see if you can identify the story structure each writer uses.

Fighting for Life 50 Floors Up, with One Tool and Ingenuity,” by Jim Dwyer, New York Times.

How To Untangle Any Conflict,” by Alexandra Kay, Real Simple.

Nothing Up Sleeve But Friendship,” by Kevin Pang, Chicago Tribune.

Where Alabama Inmates Fade Into Old Age,” by Rick Bragg, New York Times.

At Least 19 Killed in Ramadan Food Stampede,” by Salman Masood, New York Times.

Shots Fired While He Stabbed Ex-Wife,” by Conie Piloto and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, The Miami Herald (Word doc).

Parents Devoted To a Disabled Child Confront Old Age,” by Clare Ansberry, the Wall Street Journal.

Read to:

  • understand the structure of stories – how they begin, how they move from one scene to another, how they end
  • hear the voice of the author through the story
  • distinguish between writing to convey information and writing to create an experience for the reader

Jot down which structure you think fits each story, and bring your notes to class.  I’ll collect them.

Part 2: Hands-Off Editing and Coaching a Writer

Read the veterinarian story, available as PDFs on Blackboard or in the class folder. Identify the “big-picture” flaws that the writer needs to address in her revision. Then, write a memo to the writer coaching her through your suggestions. Remember to:

  • Offer praise for what the writer did well.
  • Be selective about the flaws you want her to fix. Set priorities for what she should address first.
  • Be precise and specific about what works – and what doesn’t. Cite passages. Suggest ways to make it better. Instruct. Be concrete. (Vague edicts to “find a focus” or “work on your voice” aren’t helpful to a writer.)
  • Be forthright in conveying the scope of the problem. If this writer has a lot of reporting, writing and revising to do, don’t tell her she simply needs to “tweak” her story, for example. Be honest while being supportive.
  • Frame your criticism as being in the best interest of the reader, not in the best interest of the editor (you).

Turn in a hard copy of your list of flaws and of your memo to the writer (they can be on the same page).


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