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About to embark on my first 100/120-inch serial...any suggestions?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SuperflySnuka, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. Hi everyone,

    I was lucky enough to land a huge series that I'm very, very, very excited about. Before I get into it, I figured I would ask if anyone has any suggestions.

    If you've done one, how'd it go. If it went well, what kind of questions made the story. If it went poorly, what steps in hindsight could you have taken to work it better.

    I appreciate the time you will put into this, and I will be asking some of you for guidance along the way...
  2. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    What is the subject? An issue (injuries, supplements, etc.), a series on athletes (former local players now in college, pros, etc.), a series on trends (proliferation of the spread offenses, the demise of option offenses,etc.)? A little more info would help.
  3. awriter

    awriter Active Member

    I'm with chazp: We need more info.
  4. Sorry Chaz, good point...

    The story is about about a football team that plays for a high school of emotionally disturbed and behaviorally problematic students. The situation for some of these kids is so bad that the school doesn't allow our newspaper to print its roster, for fear that some of the parents of kids who were taken by social services will come back to get them.

    Any thoughts?
  5. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    That will be tough, you'll have to use, "We'll call him, Chris," or some other blind. Find out why a coach would want this job. With the fear of parents finding out about their kids, why does the administration allow the school to have sports teams. How are sports at this school different from other prep/public schools in your state. There are several more stories inside this, I'm sure you'll find them as you start the interviews. When it goes to print, you could break it up into a series or one long story to run all at once with subheads. Sounds like you've got a jewel of a project on your hands.
  6. Mayfly

    Mayfly Active Member

    Get a lot of milk.
  7. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Don't try and write an opera, think of it as a quilt with many separate threads, coaches, players, parents, opposing teams, referees, administrators, social workers. If you start hearing Chris Connolly's voice in your head and treacly piano music STOP IMMEDIATELY!
  8. SoCalDude

    SoCalDude Active Member

    We have something like a reform school in our area. The boys basketball team made the playoffs in the smallest division and won a couple of games. They lost the game when their best player wasn't there. We asked why he didn't play. The coach said he got paroled.
  9. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member

    If this is you first rodeo, I ,ight try storyboarding the story first.

    Use sticky notes of various colors to keep track of the theads of the story or make an outline or whatever trick it is you need to make yourself a map. Work without a net and you might get lost.
  10. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    A couple of thoughts this morning. H. Henry and others above are right. Among other things, you need to be really well organized to keep track of a story this size. In that spirit:

    - Read lots of good examples of the same kind of story. Get a feel for the arc, architecture and pace of long narrative pieces.

    - Be flexible. Before you even begin, start thinking about what the story should be and how to do it. Picture it in your mind. What are the major themes and big ideas in the material? Who do I talk to? Where do I go? Know, however, that these ideas will change - sometimes radically - as you move through your research. And that they'll change yet again once you start writing.

    - Be prepared to outline the story. This can be an outline like the very formal ones you might have done in college, i.e., 1)a, 1)b, 2)a, etc. Or it can be modular, like the Post-It note version mentioned above in which you keep track of characters, scenes and storylines. I've used both - often on the same story.

    - Be prepared to outline the story twice. The first time before your research begins to determine what you think you want to get out of the story; the second after you've done the research, know what you actually have, and begin writing.

    - Odds are that you'll reorganize the story yet a third time after you're well along in your writing. This is especially true if you're moving lots of characters and events forward and back in time, and juggling lots of quotes. When you start moving scenes and chunks of text around, this is where Post-Its, or index cards tacked to the wall, come in really handy. Most of the longform titans - Talese, Wolfe, Mailer - handle(d) their material this way.

    - You might want to think about getting your taped interviews transcribed. At minimum you'll want to transcribe parts of them every day as you go. It's easy to keep 3 quotes from one subject in your head for one day to write a game story or notebook piece. It's impossible to keep 75 quotes from 25 different sources over two weeks in your head. Be really scrupulous about keeping your tapes or digital files organized. Bolster your recorded interviews with good, legible notes that you keep during the interviews. Again, it's really easy to forget exactly what was said and by whom over the course of a story that takes a couple of weeks to research and write.

    - Keep your eyes, your ears, and your mind open. Better to have small story details in your notebook and not use them, than need them and not have them.

    - Slow down to go faster. Don't rush. Don't hurry. Leave yourself enough time to just think about the story, and to follow the story where it wants to take you. Outline a schedule for the piece, backtimed from the deadline your editor sets, and stick to it. If it's due the afternoon of the 10th, for example, I'd want to be largely finished with my first draft on the morning of the 8th, to allow time for adds, fixes and improvements. Give yourself a better edit before you file, and you'll get a better edit from your editor.

    - However long you think it'll take to do the story - ask the editor for more. Negotiate more time for the story up front.

    - Try to leave enough time near the completion of the piece - a day or two - to go back to your principal subjects for additional quotes and clarifications. You'll find with a piece of this size that you don't always know what kind of information you're going to need until you're almost done writing. Leave yourself a window before you file to go back and reinterview people.

    - If possible, let the story sit unread for a day before you file. Then reread it with fresh eyes. This last pass is when you'll catch a lot of errors in language and structure.

    - Don't be afraid to write your ending first, if you're sure that a particular scene or quote is where you want to land. That'll then determine how to write the beginning and the middle. Conversely, some writers begin at the beginning and work their way through to the end. Others write out their five best scenes and then figure out how to connect them. The best writers, I think, are prepared to let the piece take them where it needs to go. This will sound a little mystical, but so be it: if you're attuned to the material, and to yourself, the piece will tell you as you write how it wants and needs to be written.

    - Part of your experience of this piece is going to be discovering some things about yourself as a writer. Be prepared for some emotional ups and downs as you work. Remember that the bad stuff is almost never as bad as you think it is. And equally important - the good stuff's almost never as good.

    - Do at least one edit on a paper copy of the story. This is important. Everything on a computer screen looks finished, complete, perfect. It's not. It's much easier to catch your mistakes and moments of narrative awkwardness on paper, so print out your first rough draft and mark it up. Read it aloud. Make notes, cuts, adds. Take out a pair of scissors and some tape and rearrange things. Lay it out page by page on the living room floor to get a sense of how it might be reshuffled.

    - Observe things without judging them.

    - Keep it simple. Declarative. Don't overwrite.

    - Have fun.

    Good luck.
  11. MGoBlue

    MGoBlue Member

    I only have one thought ... don't write 100-120 inches.
    I don't care how good a story is (be it sports or news), if it's longer than 30ish, I probably won't read it.

    How about four 25-30 inchers instead? Have a week, not a day.
  12. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    [blue]I'm sick and tired of parole boards screwing up prep sports playoffs.[/blue]
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