Monday, October 09, 2006

Things That Work

Below is an exercise I use in feature writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it works well. Today it worked really well. It's self explanatory, I think, except for the fact that the students don't do the whole thing. I circle a single scenario for each student. I suggest beforehand that the details they select for their intros will arise from conscious choices about which elements in the scene would prepare for and perhaps reinforce what they imagine will come out of their interviews. But I also tell them that they will probably make some unconscious decisions about what to "see" and that those unconscious choices may be the best things in their work.

So today it worked particularly well. The student who was to interview the convict emphasized all that there was to see outside, through the windows. The student who was to interview the janitor emphasized the degree to which the room was clean. The student who was to interview the 10-year-0ld prodigy emphasized the degree to which the room was a blank slate on which the child genius would write. The student who was to interview the widow of the prof who died in the room emphasized the grime and the gloom of the classroom, which is pretty ramshackle. She summed up: "What an ugly place to die."

Good stuff, I thought.

Describing the room: An exercise for feature writing

You have arranged an interview in this room with the person named below. You arrive 30 minutes early. Since you will be writing on deadline, you decide to do a brief sketch of the room before your subject arrives, thinking you might be able to use it as part of your story.

You are interviewing a 60-year-old architect who has been hired to remodel all the classrooms on this campus.

A 35-year-old nun who is leaving holy orders to get married.

A 40-year-old USF employee whose job is cleaning this building.

A 70-year-old priest who is about to retire from USF.

The 40-year-old widow of a USF professor who died of a heart attack in this room last year.

A 20-year-old student who has just been expelled from USF for drinking.

A 10-year-old child prodigy who has just started college at USF.

A 50-year-old prison inmate who has a day pass to take classes at USF.

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