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WMTPG, Vol. 11: Lost In The Waves by Justin Heckert

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Double Down, Jun 7, 2016.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    After an intense but good journalism discussion in the SB Nation Longform thread, I find myself with a touch of nostalgia for SJ.com of yore.

    I had an enjoyable time teaching a feature writing class this year, so I thought we might give What Makes This Piece Good? a try again. Just to see where it ̶t̶r̶o̶l̶l̶s̶ goes. If not many people want to read it or discuss the story, no big deal. I'll keep posting them, and maybe someone will get something out of it.

    Previous installments can be found here:

    WMTPG, Vol 9: Lisa Pollak on John Hirschbeck and Roberto Alomar

    For Vol. 11, we have Justin Heckert writing in Men's Journal about a very scary thing that happened to a kid and his dad in Florida. It is story rich with detail and suspense, told by a writer very good at both of those storytelling elements.

    Lost in the Waves

    A few things I talked to my students about when we read this piece:

    1. What are some of the most memorable details? How do you think he got them?

    2. How do you think Justin convinced the father to participate in this story? Do you feel sympathy toward him after it's over, or something else?

    3. Is there anything missing in this story?
    YankeeFan and Vombatus like this.
  2. Mr. Sunshine

    Mr. Sunshine Well-Known Member

    I knew from the first scene in which Christopher appeared that he was autistic. I skipped the whole middle of the story to make sure he was alive. Then I read the rest, and now I'm really fucking sad. I have nothing to offer about the writing. Sorry.
  3. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    How do you feel about the dad after reading it?
  4. Mr. Sunshine

    Mr. Sunshine Well-Known Member

    When I say I read the rest, I meant from finding out Christopher was alive until the end. Damnit, now I have to go back and read it.
  5. Mr. Sunshine

    Mr. Sunshine Well-Known Member

    Still reading, but I just got to part where he let him go. Holy fuck.
  6. Mr. Sunshine

    Mr. Sunshine Well-Known Member

    I am empathetic, but also furious. I know the feeling of wanting your son to experience the world like a "normal" child, but, God damn, man, at some point you're just putting your kid at risk to serve your own selfish needs.
  7. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    One of the things I like about the story is I feel both empathy for the dad, and also it shows what a dipshit he is/was. He's clearly not capable of caring for Christopher, but he also loves him. The complexities give the piece an uncomfortable richness.
    Ace and Mr. Sunshine like this.
  8. Mr. Sunshine

    Mr. Sunshine Well-Known Member

    I don't know if the author knows/knew much about autism, but he did a great job of saying things without saying things -- until he had to. And I agree on his portrayal of the dad. He gave you a good look into who he is -- good and bad. About as good a portrait in full as you could give in that space while still telling the story of the ordeal.

    And "uncomfortable" is a good word for what I felt among a number of emotions. You make me feel shit, you've done a good job.
  9. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Writing-wise: A compelling story, and the writer does well to let the subject tell it. But it seems like something was a little off. It kinda read like it needed some transitional sentences, or subheads. Like this part, for instance:

    The writer went right from the ocean scene to background, without anything to transition from the ocean to the background.

    This was another example:

    No transition. From background to the dock.

    Plot-wise: I agree with DD and Sunshine (surprise!) on this. The dad's heart seems to be in the right place. He loves his kid, and wants what's best for him. But he doesn't seem to have much common sense. You want to give your autistic child as many opportunities to learn and grow as any other kid. But you also have to be adjust your expectations and be prepared to come up with alternative ideas to provide opportunities. It sounds like this dad couldn't, or maybe didn't want to, adjust.

    Yes, the child loves the water. But he also needs constant supervision. Not to mention, but having the daughter and friends there as well could also distract the dad, at a place when he cannot afford to be distracted for even a second, lest his boy "elope" into a dangerous situation at a dangerous place. And his mother and her husband had warned him numerous times not to take him there, and yet, the dad did so. I hope that the dad learned that, while he should continue to look for ways to integrate his child into the community, that he should be a little more cautious about how he goes about doing it.
  10. Mr. Sunshine

    Mr. Sunshine Well-Known Member

    He set those transitions up well, IMO. The first one, especially, works very well.
  11. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I suspect, in the magazine layout, there were little section breaks.

    Maybe like ----

    Or like ****

    Or even •••

    One of pet peeves is when stories go on line and no one producing them on the website thinks to keep some of the same formatting. It matters, as it did here. I think the scene/section breaks work with transitions. I don't like writing transitions myself, on long pieces like this. I think of it more like a movie, where elements of one scene need to connect with the next scene, but there is a clear "cut."

    I always hated subheads instead of section breaks. I argued for years at my old place that subheads were a thing of the past, but it was so hard to get our designers to change what they'd been doing for two decades.
    Alma likes this.
  12. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    See, that's what I figured it was missing. It just seemed like it leaped from one part of the story to the other.
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