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Big profile - a little help

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by I'll never tell, Mar 27, 2012.

  1. I'll never tell

    I'll never tell Active Member

    Have to write a profile of this figure in our town and have been given the clearance to write it (almost) as long as it needs to be - in the neighborhood of 2,000 words.

    Having never done something of this magnitude, I was wondering who I could read for inspiration.

    In your opinion, who does those long-form profiles well? My first thought was Esquire, but I didn't know if there were others or if someone had a story that just blew them away.

    Mostly looking for how the writer structures a look at an person's entire life.

    Thanks in advance
  2. Sportaholic

    Sportaholic New Member

    Don't even think about the word count when you write, it will pysche you out. And the word count should be easy to achieve anyways, since you're covering a person's entire life. Cover everything, and including a story or two from their life should help eat up some words.
  3. mediaguy

    mediaguy Well-Known Member

    Just reach out to as many people as you can. A life isn't just one story, so you'll get different images from different stages in their life. A 2,000-word story should have a wealth of sources around your primary subject.
  4. I'll never tell

    I'll never tell Active Member

    I've already done the interviewing. Tons of it. And I've got all the material -- way more than I'll likely need.

    I'm ready to write, but was just wondering about some good longform examples, and what mags/newspapers do the best job at those big kind of profiles.
  5. Hoos3725

    Hoos3725 Member

    Can't go wrong with Dave Sheinin. His profile on Bryce Harper is a personal favorite of mine.

  6. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Instead of reading magazines, I would suggest reading profiles in The New York Times or the Washington Post, stuff that's going to be comprehensive and well-written, but probably not as experimental as Esquire. Even the shortest magazine profiles generally run 3,000 words, and it doesn't sound like you'll be getting that much space, right?

    I would highly suggest reading Michael Kruse of the Tampa Bay Times. He might be the best feature writer/profile guy in the country working in newspapers.




    Here is NYT's Mark Leibovich on Politico founder Mike Allen. This won a National AMagazine Award for Best Profile. (It's 8,300 words, btw.)

  7. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    I know you didn't specifically ask for writing advice, but since others are offering, I'll share some of what I practice -- and share with other writers -- as a magazine editor, where long-form writing reigns.

    Up front, I'll tell you that 2,000 words will go by quickly. Quicker than you think. This post itself is 342 words. Just write these eight paragraphs six more times and you'll get an idea of how fast they fly by.

    As mentioned, ignore the word count. Tell a good story. Overwrite if necessary, then edit yourself *down* to 2,000 words. If you're trying to write your way *up* to 2,000 words, you'll unconsciously add a lot of padding. Editing the fat out of your story is a good exercise. It also forces you to use more precise language -- one great word instead of three weak ones -- and makes your story move.

    Pretend every word costs you a dollar.

    Decide up front what you want to give readers -- one lengthy, detailed story, or several telling anecdotes threaded together. There's no right answer ... it depends on the information you have to work with. Think before you write and figure out a logical beginning and a logical ending. Use the middle to help your reader get from beginning to end.

    Look for ways to break up the story graphically. Not only can good info boxes break up rafts of gray type, but they also can do a lot of heavy lifting for you. Instead of spending 150 words on, say, bio stuff, put that in a box and make your story more compelling.

    Don't waste words with say-nothing quotes. Most of the time, you can say something more authoritatively than a subject. Use quotes only when they're exceptionally good -- pithy, revealing or funny.

    Don't spare descriptions and insights. Bring readers "into the moment." Tell stories and concentrate on the narrative. Approach your story like a magazine story -- not just a long newspaper story -- and you'll make it worthwhile to your readers.
  8. I'll never tell

    I'll never tell Active Member

    Thanks everyone
  9. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I'd really recommend what Double Down says: Don't read Tom Junod and think you can write like that for a 2,000-word newspaper piece. You probably can't write like that for a 15,000-word magazine piece because he's Tom fucking Junod, but you shouldn't write like that for a newspaper profile anyway.

    One thing I'm surprised hasn't been brought up: Find an angle. Straightforward biographical profiles are boring. Find some aspect of the person's life that makes him or her unique or drives him or her to success, then write the profile based on that angle. I strongly disagree with Sportaholic's advice. Don't try to cover everything. Many things are boring. There's no recipe; the boring stuff could be college or childhood or early adulthood or even, possibly, the present. Let anecdotes and important events dominate the story.

    Whom should you read? I'm a bit of a completist on these matters, but I'll spare you (and myself) the 50-name list. I don't know what type of feature you're looking at here, so I would suggest you try to identify the theme, then come back to this thread and discuss further. If you'd rather not post any details, you can skim through Best American Newspaper Writing books.
  10. BillyT

    BillyT Active Member

    I think you have this already, but a stgory like this begs for voices, as many as possible, and other material as well. past articles, plaque inscriptions, letters, awards.

    Physical descriptions of where he did what he did.
  11. I'll never tell

    I'll never tell Active Member

    Thanks again for the advice and suggestions.

    I'm not under any grand illusion that I can write like any of the guys I'm wanting to read. What I'm hoping to gain from the examples is structure of the story.

    I've written plenty of big stories and multiple-part series takes. My main hang-up with this is one big story and how to go about it.

    We use subheads for stories (perhaps too much) at my shop. I get the argument for them, I do. But I'm trying to get some examples maybe of how you do that well without subheads.

    Or a different way of arranging the subheads where they're not something dull like: ealry life, teenage years, blah, blah, blah.
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