A New Kind of Writing

The end of last semester was jam-packed with life events:

  • I finished my undergraduate degrees in journalism and economics
  • I turned 22
  • I completed my last semester on the Missourian’s education beat, where I’ve been for almost 2 years.

It might not seem like much, but it felt like a lot, especially for only 24 hours or so. Now, I’m finishing up my first week of graduate school back at the Missouri School of Journalism, and starting a whole new set of classes and goals.

For my Intermediate Writing class, I’ll be keeping a blog about my experiences learning about in-depth immersion writing. This is somewhat new territory for me — while I’ve made it a goal in the past to improve my feature and descriptive writing, I’m really a more break-it-all-down kind of girl. I’m trying to use my time as a graduate student to explore the areas I think will serve me best as I move on to my career, and first and foremost of those is writing.

So far, I’ve only had one class session, but I can already see where I’ll find welcome changes and where I’ll find challenges.

The notion of storytelling isn’t new to me. I’ve always loved reading and talking and socializing, and on occasion, I think I can spin a decently amusing yarn. Some of my favorite books are narrative non-fiction written by journalists or with a more journalistic style, including Lynn Povich’s “The Good Girls Revolt,” Nick Kristoff’s “Half The Sky,” Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City,” Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies,” and Laurence Rees’ “Auschwitz: A New History.”

I’m drawn to narrative writing, like most humans, and can relate to the authors’ desires to bring some part of history or the unknown world alive to readers. It’s how to integrate that with reporting that makes me freeze up, especially when it comes to what my professor Jacqui Banaszynski calls “telling or revelatory detail.”

I love writing that allows me to infuse my own personality in it, which is why, in large part, I’ve been writing this blog on and off for four years. It’s a way to express myself in writing that isn’t quite as restricted as journalistic articles can be, at least as far as humor and sarcasm are concerned. Journalistic writing can be humorous and amusing and beautiful without compromising it’s elements of accuracy, ethics and public service, but it doesn’t feel nearly as free as writing this blog does. Yet.

In our first class, we focused on the elements of a good story — elements traditional, inverted-pyramid style hard news can lack.

  • Suspense
  • Conflict
  • Rising tension/action
  • Universal themes and relevance
  • Irony
  • Repetition and cadence
  • A sense of timelessness
  • Characters and their relationships
  • Dialog
  • Emotion
  • Telling or revelatory detail
  • Setting and scene, and the plot that happens there
  • A beginning, middle and end.

It’s a long list, and I don’t expect to hit every item. I want to start with the basics: a narrative arc structure (beginning, middle, end), scene, detail and dialog. I tried to do that in my first assignment, a first draft of a personal essay about my connection with reading and writing.

I’ll be posting at least once a week as the semester continues, sharing my work, class insights and discussions and outside materials that relate to what I’m learning or reflecting on. Feel free to chime in at any point!

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