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First stab at longform

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Human_Paraquat, Sep 19, 2015.

  1. Human_Paraquat

    Human_Paraquat Active Member

    The print title of this is "Near fall" but you only see the SEO headline online -- something I hope we can tweak:

    Already have some ideas on how I could have better approached the structure, but eager to get some feedback. Thanks.

    McCutcheon grad turning life around
  2. cjericho

    cjericho Well-Known Member

    There's a jail that has a porcelin sink? Pretty sure they're usually steel.
  3. Human_Paraquat

    Human_Paraquat Active Member

    Funny you should ask. Very late in the editing process I had a conversation with the title subject, who mentioned the mirrors being made of steel. So I asked about the sink, since I'd already written that lead, but he said the sinks were porcelain (or what he believed to be porcelain).

    A small detail but representative of the qualms I had in writing a piece like this, since you rely so much on a single source's impressions and recollections. I tried to get background confirmations on as many details as possible, but it was more difficult to do that with the prison stuff.
  4. cjericho

    cjericho Well-Known Member

    That is odd, especially seeing that it seemed to be a place where the inmates don't always play nicely. Usually the sink and toilets are steel.

    That was a good story. Hope that guy stays clean.
  5. ringer

    ringer Member

    It wasn't bad -- actually pretty decent for a first lengthy feature. That said... it could have been shorter. ;)

    Confession: I only made it 2/3 of the way through. But I still have some constructive thoughts.

    I think one big flaw was, as you said, relying "so much on a single source's impressions and recollections." With a piece like this, with so many legal red flags - you absolutely have to corroborate everything (not just whether he was a good, likeable kid. And, imo, there was too much opining about his likeability.)

    One effect of all that opining was that, as a reader, I had a hard time quickly feeling any empathy for him (or even any enmity). Except for a bit about his home life, most of what I learned about him came from opinions (telling), rather than detail (showing). If someone says he's poetic, let's hear something he said that would immediately prove the point. If someone tells you he has their back - what would indicate that? If someone says he has a sense of humor - what kind? Self-deprecating? Bawdy? Sarcastic? Press for examples. Don't just take people's word for it. And if you meet him in a restaurant, the fact about greeting everyone by name was great (because it revealed something), but we could use a little description of the place - is is a country kitchen or a grungy diner or what? Is everyone wearing a trucker hat? Are there families of 7? The secret sauce is in all these details. And choices. Next time, try to make every line absolutely necessary.

    Some other important questions:
    Did you ever talk to the stepdad? His side of the story is crucial, especially if people allege that he was "mean" or mentally mean -- clearly implying abusive. Even if he isn't named, he is highly identifiable.

    There were other moments that were inexplicably one-sided -- an early scene with the grandmother, and this one:
    Traci McCoy had watched friends and fellow inmates succumb to heroin. It was one drug she had specifically warned her children to avoid. "I don't know what I expected my mom to think when I told her that," McCoy said, "but she was instantly furious." Readers don't want to hear him say she was furious. Readers want a quote from his mother here saying exactly what her reaction was. Or, at minimum, what exactly did she do? Scream? Lock him in his room? This moment is too climactic to leave us with "furious."

    Re: the sink - if the jail still exists, you can fact check by making a direct inquiry with the jail. It doesn't matter if it takes a week to get it right. It still has to be right. If you can't back up your first line, then your whole piece is in trouble.

    Hope that helps. Seemed like a really compelling story and you had some nice lines and deft touches, but the bulk of it was just a bit foggy. Keep at it!
    SBR likes this.
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