Write for Profit with Professor Dick

Monday, January 15, 2007

50 Article Structures

Presented by Prof. Dick Bohrer

First sentence contains the essential point of the paragraph or section or article. It answers all the readers questions at once. In news stories, it tells the who, what happened, where, when, how and sometimes “wow.”
This method works well in biographical studies. Open my chapter on inverted pyramids on my website (professordick.com) under how to write articles and find Bob Hope’s biographical article on Bing Crosby. It uses this structure with telling effect.

This story will begin with the mention of that single feature and in successive paragraphs will develop the details of the story to the conclusion. It may be done in inverted pyramid or chronological structure—really one of the many structures that follow..

This mentions two features in the first paragraph (possibly in the first sentence) and then will develop first the one feature and then the other.
Half-way through the article, it will revert to the first feature again for more development before it turns to the second feature. This will add details that were not important enough for the primary statement but which are nonetheless significant. The structure may turn again once more near the end to the first and then the second feature before concluding.

This story will mention three features in the first paragraph (possibly the first sentence) and then will develop each of the three in turn, one after the other. Sometimes, a writer will choose to put each feature in a paragraph of its own here in the beginning.
Half-way through the article or so, the writer will revert to the first feature again for more development before turning to the second and then the third feature.
The article may go through the three once more before it concludes to add further details not covered earlier. It may not.
The conclusion will restate the three features, but it should do so in reverse order so the reader won’t be bored by another retelling. Mention the third feature first, then the second, then the first last. This gives a new, fresh look to the three.

This may be handled in various ways—as salient feature, composite, summary, round-up. It will be a major story with many main ingredients. Your skillful handling of the structure you choose will help you write a story of great length—should you choose.

When the several feature has one main, major item that can be emphasized above the others, we call it the salient feature. Mention it first. That mention make take 10 paragraphs. Let it.
Mention the other features in the paragraph following the salient feature. In the next paragraph tie into the event showing how they are related to the subject matter of the story. Then in turn, go through the details of each feature.
Here again, you may wish to go through the series three times to give less and less significant details or a more expanded presentation of the story as a whole.
Sometimes, the salient feature will be so significant that it will have to be developed at length . Let’s say a war hero or Miss America or a significant political personality will be the main speaker in a a convocation at a state fair. Begin there and give the significant information before you bring up the related features of what else will occur—a parade, a queen-crowning, ribbons given, coming events.
So you have 10 (let’s say) paragraphs on the salient feature. One paragraph on other events and then one paragraph identifying the “what-where-when” needed. Then present each of the other main events in turn, using as many paragraphs as you need.
You might wish to come back and go through each one again. Should you do it a third time, use the reverse order there.

The composite structure will have two or more main features in the first paragraph and a summary of the other features in the second. The “where-when-how-why” details necessary to the story will come in the third paragraph. Then, again, in turn, the features will be developed.
In such long stories, it is very permissible to introduce new summary statements deep in the article with further development coming from them. Just don’t stray away from the essential theme of the article.

The summary story and the round-up are similar in that both have the same kind of material to cover. The summary will take several events and summarize what they have in common. These structures are often used to tell a multiple-casualty story or a multiple-action event. The summary structure will summarize the event in the first paragraph (40 people died in accidents across the state on the Fourth of July or Hurricane Ida tore across the state Friday, killing 29 people and causing $3 million in damage).
The next paragraphs will list the events, giving a general overview of traffic deaths, drownings, fireworks deaths and injuries each in turn.
The next series of paragraphs will summarize in greater detail other aspects of the event.

The round-up article will begin with a general overview lead as in the summary article. As it goes into the deaths from traffic, then from drowning, then from fireworks, it will present each death individually in its own inverted pyramid structure.
This structure could be well used for articles about soldiers who fall in battle or ships that have sunk off barrier reefs or prizes handed out at school.

Begin at the beginning and go to the end. No flashback. The first sentence should startle or hint. You want significance. Threat. You want to tweak the reader’s interest in reading on.
Reverse chronology? Begin at the end (used in sports) to tell the outcome, the final score. Then last second drama. Then last five minutes. Then final quarter. Then half time and onward. Then go back to the beginning of the game and do an overview.

Begins with a general 5W statement of what happened in the event, naming no names, using no proper nouns. It tells what happened to someone—a taxi driver made a wrong turn Saturday night and drove his cab off a waterfront pier.
The second paragraph gives details with names, ages, addresses, dates—all the material we need to know what happened to whom, where, when, why and/or how.
The third paragraph will begin a chronological retelling of the event and the first verb in that initial sentence will be in the past perfect tense: Swanson had driven to the waterfront earlier that night . . . Retell the entire story chronologically to the end.

Your first sentence may contain only the then with your second sentence containing the now. Or you may put them both in the first sentence. Or you can begin with a narration of events THEN and conclude with a narration of consequential events NOW, taking many paragraphs for each. Here are two suggestions for first sentences:
Housewives cooling lemonade today need only press a button to cascade ice cubes in their glass. But one lifetime ago, only the ice man at the door could cool a lemonade.
Housewives cooling lemonade today have it easy compared to the way their mothers had to do it only one lifetime ago.
This structure is great for comparisons. Treat both at the beginning of the article and then develop each one in turn, once, twice, three times adding more details and anecdotes as you go.

Your entire article can be one anecdote after another covering a given theme. Two girls cross the Atlantic in a rowboat or a kidnapped boy returns or stories Grampa loved to tell or new books published this week could comprise your anecdotal article.
Some writers begin with a string of three or four anecdotes bearing on the topic and follow with a statement giving the theme of the article before they continue chronologically or with one of these other methods.
Or insert a string of three or four anecdotes in the body of the article to illustrate the thesis you are presenting.
You could insert short comments or reflections between each one or not.
Family stories work well in this structure.

This is commonly used in many Christian magazines because Christ has brought so many people solutions to peoples’ problems.
The problem will be stated at the beginning of the article and will be supported with an anecdote or two. A biographical sketch of the main character will be followed by anecdotes showing with a summary ending how the problem was solved.

This structure explores in depth each of the two elements without switching back and forth. All the ramifications of the cause will be given and then all the effects. It may contain anecdotes and, if it concerns a person, it may contain a biographical sketch.

Do a sentence outline of your article , presenting all your points. Then take each point to be the first sentence of a section. Each section begins with a topic sentence from your outline that states a significant point. In picture form, the article will look like a series of long inverted pyramids
Be careful to limit the development of each section to the material found in its first sentence from your outline.

In this structure, you prepare the reader for the main point of the section, state the point and then develop it, giving other details and/or ramifications until you begin working up to your next point. Then you do it again. Pictorially, this looks like a pyramid sitting on an inverted pyramid. We build up to the main point and then develop it within the section or paragraph. Many textbook authors use this method in the development of long paragraphs or sections in their chapters.

The pyramid structure is the anecdotal structure where the punch line comes at the end of the story. The whole article might be one large pyramid or you might have a string of pyramids. This can be used in biographical articles where you present pyramids that make significant statements about the character. Refer to my lessons on article writing in my website. The lesson on “repeated pyramid” gives a sample article about the golfer Jack Nichlaus.

In this article, you include yourself, describing how you entered the house and waited for the celebrity to join you. You report what you see and tell the conversation as it occurs when your subject appears. You will probably use a chronological narrative form.
You will have to choose whether you cover the event as it happened or whether you pick and choose what was said to keep like subject matter with like.

This is an unstructured article. It is the recording of the rambling thoughts of the writer on a certain topic or series of related topics. The sentences will be intelligent enough, but there need not be any deliberate evidence of an outline at all. The text may wander from point to point without paying attention to the rigors of time and space.

This article is written the way we write plays only in this case you would begin with a summary statement explaining the topic and who the participants are who will discuss it.
Then you present the article like a play script, indicating the name of the speaker (first or last name only) followed by a colon and his contribution.
This kind of article is used to cover group interviews where several people will have opinions on the topic. The interplay of opinions is handled in either a tailored fashion or an untailored one. The writer may cut and paste related opinions together from the entire conversation (tailored fashion) or he may allow the repartee to ebb and flow as it naturally occurred (untailored).

We use this method at the end of an article when a great deal of information needs to be inserted briefly. It can be used to record an overview of what happened at a meeting where the main topics discussed are developed one after another. Or if other topics or decisions need to be mentioned, handle it with this.
In other action, the council:
· required all meter maids to weak pink tennis shoes
· recalled the mayor and six members of his staff
· chose a confetti engineer to oversee celebrations

This can be written in chronological narrative. It will begin with a significant hook to attract the interest of the reader. Some personal experience articles are written in Frame and Flashback (which see).

This is like a problem and solution article, but it takes the reader through a series of failures before it arrives at its “come-to-realize” conclusion.
I had a problem . . . I tried this solution . . . It failed . . . I tried that solution . . . It failed . . . I was desperate . . . I couldn’t go on like this . . . I had to do something . . . I tried one last time . . . I failed . . . But then, and only then, I realized what had been wrong all the time . . . Now I saw the light, the truth . . This is what I found . . . I’m cured . . . I’ll never be the same . . . I’m writing this so that others will not have to go through what I went through.

25. HOW TO
This article is precisely that. It tells the reader interestingly and logically how to do something. It may describe the forest before defining each tree; but when it comes to its recounting of the method, it must be as clear as a recipe. You must begin with an overview before going into a step-by-step presentation of how to do something.

This article is written with unusually colorful and emotional verbs. It throws the weight all to one side and tries its best to persuade and then convince the reader that its theses are the right ones. It ignores logic but is not illogical. It arouses sympathies and animosities. It is a call to action.

This turns on the light and exposes frauds and perfidies and unrighteousnesses wherever they occur. It is written in a thoroughly logical manner as if a lawyer were presenting a brief. It must document its accusations. It must be underwritten rather than overwritten. Its verbs will not be emotional; they’ll be factual and not rousing. The over-all effect may be rousing.
Certainly, those exposed will be aroused!
But this is the kind of article that lawsuits rise out of. Any writer must be careful.
The first sentence will cut to the heart of the issue. The evidence revealed may be in inverted pyramid structure like the one presented in the outline article (above).

Staccato. Nouns. Verbs. Outline of key facts. Crammed into short space. Repetition. One or two word phrases in each sentence. Virtually all these structures are developed on my website in either the article lesson series or the opinion ones.

Legato. Stream of consciousness. Brain storm. Quick writing. Highlight facts. Separate each fact or act with an ellipsis.

Clean. Direct. To the point. No clutter. Simple sentences (all of the subject does all of the verb). Choose a memory. Your first day of . . . .

31. ABC
Perhaps one of the cleverest ABC treatments belongs to the “ABZ” book of the late Shel Silverstein. Full articles of this can become tedius. All fall prey to the six deadly letters that are difficult to include: J K Q V X Z. But as a novelty feature, the ABC article can provide some amusement.
Begin with an introductory summary sentence: I’ll never forget the kids I played with in grammar school. I use the alphabet to remember them. Alice Smith . . . Brenda Jones . . . Carl Jenssen . . .
Remember the games we played in our old neighborhood when we were kids? We had an alphabet of games: Allee, allee, all in free. Blind man’s bluff. Come over, Rover, come over. Each addition would be accompanied by comment telling why it belonged in the series.

Howard L. Chase’s “Anguish Languish” is a book of his stories where he retells our favorite children’s stories in puns. Every word is a pun. “Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock florist.” Read out loud quickly it makes complete sense. Only then.
Or “The Froazen Moose” by Gene Coghlan who wrote it on a lark and sent it to Harper’s Magazine. The editors printed it as written, realizing its saturation of misspelled words and tone of a codger gave it a charm it could not have if they correctly spelled every word. It is included in my lessons on how to write articles in the chapter on “sheer nonsense.”
Don’t make dialect too hard to read. Some leave out a certain letter or negative prefixes to achieve novelty.

Write in the style of “The Cat in the Hat.” “This is the house that Jack built.” “Dick and Jane.” You need to choose a style that is immediately recognizable.
Joan Mills wrote about the first day of school in an article that Reader’s Digest picked up.
See Mother. Mother is sleeping.
“Jump up, Mother,” says Father. “Jump up. Today is the first day of school.” The events of the day follow in the Dick and Jane structure.

This structure is the basis of the interview when one is presenting facts in a novel way. It can be the basis of an article when you already know all the facts. Ask and answer yourself. Inserting the letters “Q” and “A” is not necessary. You can use this method when you want to rewrite news. Write naturally. Your article could be you the adult interviewing you the child or you, the child, interviewing you, the adult. Be an attorney or minister or principal asking about your life.
Use it in an article that probes a coach’s reasoning why he/she isn’t creative in an effort to win or when a pastor refuses to preach hell and damnation.
Use it when there is an issue that is troubling the public to bring answers everyone wants to know.

Here you use a time sequence. You could begin with the 5 Ws and include a WOW. Diary can be used to cover one significant event where people are sitting around waiting for something of consequence to be revealed. Sports writers use it to build up to the final score. Writers of tragedies use it to trace the events that led up to the climax.
With this structure, your reader relives as the main character retells what happened each moment.
The time sequence can be by the minute, the ten minutes, the hour, the day, the month—any time period the writer wishes to use. Tell in narrative form what happened within each time slot.
Naturally, diary will have to cover a significant event so the reader will care to read and keep reading.

Clever writers refer to old time stories like David and Goliath to heighten contrasts between contestants. Sometimes news events and exciting games are retold in the style of an old tale.

Retell news by reliving it in conversation. The reader needs to know whether the conversation actually occurred as you wrote it. For your own protection, you need to check with the living person you are quoting to ascertain the accuracy of the quote.
If you have written an obviously contrived conversation with generic characters, you don’t need to take this precaution.
You can take a story out of the news and build a conversation around it if you don’t mention any names. A woman who tried to leave a store here today found herself stopped at the door as officers pointed to the bulge at her belly under her dress.
“She’s stealing a basketball,” one of the clerks told the officer. It turned out she was pregnant. But the conversation at the time makes delightful reading.
Remember to always use “said” in the tags and put the said verb after the subject: always “he said” or “she said.” Using “affirmed,” “reiterated,” “charged,” or any of the 200 synonyms for said mark an amateur.
If only two people are involved in the conversation, you do not have to include a tag with every statement; but you do have to insert a new paragraph. Read my chapter on the conversational article for further details.

This is the no-man’s-land of article writing. You are simply covering a sliver of life. There is not even a need to name the characters, but we usually do. There is also no need for a point or conclusion. But what you tell must have significance.

Begin as near the ending as possible, working up to just before the climax. Then, with a transition sentence, such as “How did I ever get into this mess?” flash back to the origins of the problem: At this point, you must use PAST PERFECT TENSE in your first verb—Charlie had left the house that morning thinking he would be gone for just an hour.
When the flashback catches up to the beginning, complete the climax and move to the end.
This is an effective method for the personal experience article because it begins with strong action but stops before the resolution. This catches and holds the reader’s interest—and the editor’s.

Plant something important at the beginning and pick it up at the end. This is used in many articles to provide unity. What was mentioned in the lead paragraph gets referred to again in the conclusion.
It may be the mention again of significant nouns or the resolution of a conflict or solving of the beginning problem.
As with baseball, everything starts and ends at home plate.
A quest? Someone leaves home to find happiness and returns home to find it there. The article follows, detailing each destination as the protagonist makes his search.
Is a child lost? The mother goes to a neighbor who sends her to a teacher who sends her to a policeman who sends her home. “Jackie! You’re home! I thought you were lost!!”

This method is used when one person or problem gathers another and the two a third and so on as the article progresses. Like “Little Half Chick” and “The Bremen Town Musicians” and “Turkey Lurkey” with the gang going on to do great things. This can be used as explorers are gathered to go search for Noah’s Ark or the Holy Grail. Perhaps students are massing to go talk to City Council. Perhaps neighbors are building support to protest an illegal takeover. What begins with one or two, swells to an army.

A statement of consequence is given in or near the lead and repeated in the body of the article at least three more times. This method is used when the writer wants to impress his reader with a fact he won’t forget. This may be used with any number of structures already mentioned.

As with a store catalog where item after item is shown or described, catalog structure stacks the pack with item after item after item. The items bear on the topic, of course. They can be people, places, things. They can be words or birds or herds or Kurds. They can be things one family did to keep the children happy at home during summer vacation. They can be a mother’s wail at the things her family leaves undone.

Surprise ending is just that. It presents a problem that gets solved in a surprising way. Like an article with suspended interest, it will take us into action, often an act of violence, and then retreat to fill us in on the background of the event. The article then approaches the ultimate action again and completes the telling with an unexpected conclusion.
It can be written like a single feature or a chronology or a frame and flashback or a come-to-realize.

This is an effective device to use when covering a speech or sermon. It is a great way to advertise the ministry of a local pastor. Some newspapers are happy to include one on a regular basis.
In the opening paragraphs you identify the problem or subject being addressed, the participants and the five w’s. If the article opens with part of a quote of significance in the lead, follow it with statements that explain it.
If the article opens with statements about what was said, alternate those statements with quotes.
The quotes may support the statements (but not repeat what they said) or the statements may support the quotes, expanding on what has been said.

This technique can be used both in fiction and non fiction. Following an introduction that sets the scene, names the participants, suggests both the problem and the desired solution, the action paragraphs alternate with the reflection paragraphs as the author or narrative character thinks about the problem.
See the chapter in the feature writing lessons for an expansion of this idea and for illustrations of it in practice.

This article details “threat realized.” The hero sinks in his effort to win something or rescue something or someone. At the point when he is sunk, rescue comes. It is better to have him rescue himself or be the means of triumph himself. It’s weak to have an arm come out of the sky to pluck him to safety.
It can detail an actual rescue where the Coast Guard finally finds the stricken vessel and rescues the helpless
Or it can explore a failure followed by a solution. Generally, the structure will be a chronological narrative.

Where the interview article has a focus regarding a time, a space, an action, an opinion, the biography sweeps through the entire life. Use it to present what makes that person tick, what has made him/her the person of the moment. Dig for gold. See through snow. Many of the structures presented will fortify the presentation of a life story.
Realize that this article can be a section of a person’s life and not from cradle to grave.

This must be limited to a specific incident or a short series of incidents. The article is not a book. You cannot regale your reader with all the details, all the moles, all the illnesses and accidents, all the failures, all the suffering you’ve endured in life. You must limit your first-person account to things that really matter.
You may chronicle them chronologically without flashback or you may approach the crisis first and then circle back to tell how you got into that predicament. That circle will give background and identity to you as a person.
Give insights no biographer could get out of you. Your style should be personal—warm, intimate.
Remember, you probably have a word count you have to stay within.
Try not to applaud your every thought and action.
Give credit to God but don’t make it showy.

This has been an overview of the material presented in my 72 copyrighted writing lessons on my website.
Dip in freely. I’m asking no charge. I’m a writing teacher with a burden that people pick up the torch I’m throwing and run with it.
Prof. Dick Bohrer, M.Sc., M.A.k

Friday, January 12, 2007

Monday, October 02, 2006

The First 10 of 50 Article Structures

qThe First 10 of 50 Article Structures
Presented by Prof. Dick Bohrer
Blog #7

First sentence contains the essential point of the article. It answers all the readers questions, giving the essential ingredients at once. Paragraphs, sections and whole articles (see #2) may be one inverted pyramid.
In news stories, the first sentence tells who is involved, what happened, where, when, how and often why.

This story will begin with the mention of that single feature in an all-encompassing first sentence and then in successive paragraphs will develop the details of the story to the conclusion. The whole article will be one long inverted pyramid.

This mentions two features in the first paragraph and then through the article will develop the first feature and then the second. Some articles will use two sentences or a whole paragraph for each.
Many articles these days will begin with a story or a conversational lead. The essential ingredients will come in the third, fourth or fifth paragraph.
Half-way through the article, the writer will revert to the first feature for more development before turning to the second feature again. This will add details that were not important enough for the primary statement but which are nonetheless significant.
The structure may turn again once more near the end to the first and then to the second feature before concluding.

This story will mention three features in the first paragraphs and then will develop each of the three in turn, one after the other.
Again, half-way through the article or so, it will revert to the first feature again for more development before it turns to the second and then the third feature.
The article may go through the three once more before it concludes to add further details not covered earlier. It may not.
The conclusion will restate the three features, but should do so in reverse order so the reader won’t be bored by another retelling. Mention the third feature first, then the second, then the first last. This gives a new, fresh look to the three.

This may be handled in various ways—as salient feature, composite, summary, round-up. It will be a major story with many main ingredients and it may go on at great length.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Easy Recipe #1

Blog #6

You face an assignment of a 1500-word article, let’s say. You quake. 1500 words?

Don’t worry. It’s a snap. We’ll just use alternating statement and quote. It’s easy.

When convenient, refer to an article in print for ideas. Let’s do that with “Model Planes” by Willow Bay on page 98 of the May 2006 issue of Reader’s Digest.

Start your article with an illustration as this author does: “In late fall 2004 a powerful rainstorm battered New England, reducing visibility and snarling traffic.” In this case, the storm created havoc at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Flights had backed up that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. In response, one “enterprising crew member” at JetBlue Airways New York headquarters loaded a bus with staff and drove north to help.

“The guy at the wheel? JetBlue’s founder and chief executive, David Neeleman.”

At this point, we begin an alternating statement and quote description of what’s going on at that fast growing airline.

The first quote has “the 46-year-old entrepreneur” saying that in his business “you have got to be close to the action.”

The statement following that explains how financial acumen, common sense and religious faith (he’s a Mormon) have lifted his airline into competition with the nation’s best.

Then follows a quote from an editor who has watched JetBlue from its beginnings and another quote from Neeleman telling that he’s eliminated the frustrations that worry passengers. The statement that follows explains how he did that.

Another quote from the editor is followed by another quote from Neeleman, a statement that all employees enjoy profit-sharing rewards and opportunities to buy stock at a discount.

A flight attendant says that customers constantly say, “You’re always so happy.” She adds that the employees have every reason to be happy.

A statement tells that the boss has a reputation for working alongside employees and serving passengers. “He’s a mingler,” a vice president says of him.

The next statement tells that he will take the non-reclining back seat when flying so that the crew will see it’s more important to keep passengers comfortable than the CEO. He’s “egalitarian,” believing everyone should be treated equally.

The next quote, “I was raised in a home where my father was always for the underdog,” leads into statements that tell how Neeleman learned on a missionary trip to Brazil that no one person should be put on a higher ground than another. “No first-class seats, no second-class citizens” is the quote that follows.

The article works through his early life and comes back to how Jet Blue is developing. The author narrates for longer stretches here and comes back to alternating S and Q at the end: “It’s time for us to really shine, and do better at the things we do,” Neeleman says.

A statement ends the piece: “Given the strength of its founder’s faith, Jet Blue is pretty likely to keep flying high.” Notice there is a tie back to the beginning when the author mentioned the founder’s faith. It’s always good to play plant-and-pick-up when you write an article.

Rule: Never let the quote repeat what came before or what follows after. If it follows the statement section, it will expand on or comment on what has been given just as the “You’re always so happy” quote followed the statement that employees share in the profits.

Conversely, that quote could have come first and introduced the profit-sharing policies of the company.

Alternating statement and quote is easy to do. Granted, you must have the subject matter well in hand. But when you follow a structure such as this, writing comes easily and looks very, very professional.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Friday, May 26, 2006

Your Living Inkwell

Blog #5

Who you are, who your parents and family are, who your friends are, whom you love, where you’ve lived, where you studied, when you were saved and the circumstances, what you think, what you know about life, what crises you’ve faced, what decisions you’ve made, what disappointments you’ve suffered, what successes—all these and everything else you can think of are waiting in the inkwell of your memory. Dip in your pen and write.

Jay Ratliff in his article, “Bases Loaded, How my father’s advice paid off in the game of life,” (Reader’s Digest, May, 2006, page 29) recounts baseball games he played as a kid. His father had told him to know what he was going to do with the baseball before he got it. He writes that he ignored that “stupid advice” until he realized in a crucial game that Dad was right. He would have to tag the batter, run toward home plate and threaten the runner at third in order to keep his opponents from scoring.

When a ground ball came toward him at first base, he did just that. On his job as an adult, he put the same advice to good use. In retirement, he has done the same, always anticipating in advance what he will do when opportunity knocks.

Jay wrote a chronological narrative in first person, dipping into his mind for a significant memory that colored his whole life.

Have you such a memory when you took some advice and it worked? Write about it in chronological order.

Molly O’Neill in her “The Home Team” article on page 174 of the May 2006 Reader’s Digest used chronological narrative to tell how “every one of my five younger brothers was bred to play baseball.” She begins at a time “before they were even old enough to seriously practice” and progresses well into Little League, climaxing when a brother single-handedly wins an important game.

Ruthie Just Braffman in “Stand Tall” on page 109 of the June 2006 issue of Reader’s Digest also used advice to cope with a problem she had. In her adolescence, she grew taller faster than the other girls in her class. She hated when well-meaning people gushed, “Ruthie! Look how tall you’re getting.” But her grandfather urged her to “Stand straight and tall.”

“And each time, I would sheepishly comply. Even at age 15, I understood that his advice was about more than just feet and inches.”

See what Ruthie and Jay are doing? They are taking advice and showing that there is more to it than meets the eye. This is a technique professional writers use to bring depth to what might have been an ordinary story. Ruthie ends her article with “His advice to me has become much more than a challenge to improve my posture. It tells me to be proud of who I am. 'Stand straight, stand tall,' my grandfather told me. And I do.”

Think of some advice you were given once. Share your initial reaction. Show how you began to use it. Search for a deeper significance you realized as you aged or as you put it into practice time and again.

Begin at a point in time and write in chronological order. Try to give three incidents when you put the advice into practice. End with your realization that the advice changed your life or changed your outlook or changed your beliefs and convictions or changed someone else.

Bring conversation into the narrative. Tell what was at stake that prompted you to take the advice. Don’t give away your “Aha!” realization until the end.

Many magazines publish personal experience articles. As you stand at the magazine rack in your local library or supermarket, look for those that do. Some writing gurus suggest that you send your article to one of the assistant editors.

I recommend that you send your article to ten magazines, indicating in your introductory letter What I have to say, How I said it and Why I am qualified to say it. Try to have an interesting first sentence in that letter. End by saying that you are sending simultaneous submissions to other editors. Use those two words, “simultaneous submissions.”

If two editors show their interest, choose one and follow up. NEVER SELL your article to more than one editor at a time. Wait until your article has been published before you send it out again. Some writers sell the same article time and time again, each time to a different strata of reader—auto mechanics, horse trainers, cooks, sewers, gardeners, grannies, kids—whoever might be interested.

I include a self-addressed post card with my manuscripts, telling the editor to discard the article if it does not interest him/her and to simply return the card with the decision. It’s cheaper to make another copy at home than to pay for the return of a battered sheaf.

Let me know if these blogs serve you well. I have 40 years worth of experience to share.
If you wish to know more about me, look up my website at www.professordick.com.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

You Gotta Think! You Gotta Dig!

Blog #4

You want to be a professional writer?

You must think.

You must use your senses.

You must search for details.

You must know structure.

Just as you can’t just sit at a piano and ramble your fingers haphazardly over the keys and expect your audience to roar approval of your great concerto, you can’t sit at a word processor, randomly pour out your soul and expect editors to buy and publish what you write.

As performance takes practice, practice, practice so it is with writing.

I have 72 lessons on my website (www.professordick.com) that deal with structure. Good writing comes more quickly when your article follows a structure.

Will you use Cycle? Alternating action and reflection? Problem and solution? Frame and flashback?

When you know what you are doing, where you are going and how you will get there, the writing task becomes easy.

Once you have your structure, you must choose your subject and go for details. Use your senses to find them. Look closely. Listen . Really listen. Ask questions. Ask and ask and ask. Find out everything. Use a recorder and make sure it is not on pause.

Realize that editors can turn to recognized authorities for their articles. Why would they want one from you and me?

Because we have the time to do the necessary research. Editors don’t. The publishing regimen keeps their hours full. And not every scientist can write.

You and I need to know where to go to find information. We need to know how to interview, how to use our library reference room, how to file information so it is available when we need it, how to keep our office picked up so we have room to work.

Given all this, we’ve got to think, strategize, and recognize what interests readers.

Cathy Free, who wrote “Diving Buddy” on page 32 of the May Reader’s Digest, piled detail on detail. Her first sentence tells where Larry Cummins, her character, worked in Kaneohe, Hawaii.
Her second sentence tells the date, January 14, and the fact that all he wanted getting off from work were some snacks and drinks from the fridge on his nearby sailboat and to drive across town to play poker with friends.

Her third sentence tells that the 37-year-old Navy aircraft mechanic was walking across the marina boardwalk “shortly after 5 p.m.” when a man from the Waikiki Yacht Club lounge tells him a white Cadillac had hit Larry’s pickup. Virtually every word is a significant item worth knowing.

As Larry walks to the Club lounge to report the incident, he learns from a boating friend that a lady from a highrise called in to report seeing a white car drive off the pier into the water.
Larry stares at the murky water and sees books and papers scattered everywhere. “But when he noticed bubbles, he stooped down to take a closer look and caught a glimpse of something white below the surface.”

See what the writer is doing in her chronological retelling of the event. She’s probed into his thoughts and actions as he confronts a tragedy.

Cathy then switches to the attempts of the victims to escape. Alena called 911 on her cell phone. “The water’s coming in. I don’t want to drown! Hurry!”

Larry dives down. “Although the Ala Wai was the temperature of bath water, under the surface, it was darker than a cave,” Cathy writes.

See? She’s asked for everything she needs to make this an article that commands our interest.
How did you hear about the accident? What did you think when you saw the bubbles? What made you decide to dive in. What was it like? Where did you go when you got down there? How did you get the door to open? What did you feel as you groped inside?

Larry dives down four times before he can get a door open and Alena out. The next time he finds her grandfather who died en route to the hospital.

“Alena, a Girl Scout who hopes one day to become an attorney like her granddad, says she’ll be forever grateful to the lanky sailor who saved her life.” In that one sentence near the end we learn even more about the people involved.

Cathy Free ties the article end to the beginning with more details and a reminder:
“Cummins has two children of his own, Daniel, 14, and Pearl, 8. ‘I’d like to think somebody would do the same for me,’ he says. ‘I believe I was meant to be at that yacht club at that moment, on that day. All I was after was some stuff for a poker game. What are the odds?”

Read that article for yourself and let it be a textbook to show you the kinds of details you should look for when you retell what has happened.

We’ll be studying Reader’s Digest in detail month by month. Subscribe and come with me. (I get nothing for this commercial). It’s a good text, and I’m a teacher.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Magic Key Professional Writers Use

The Magic Key Professional Writers Use

Blog #3

They use it near the beginning, often just following the lead-off sentences. I call it the “thesis statement.” It says in one sentence what the article that follows tells from there on out.

Take “No Guts, No Glory” on page 53 of the May Reader’s Digest magazine. It opens with a first sentence that asks a question: “How did a high school English and art teacher, with no business experience, create a multimillion-dollar company?”

The second sentence identifies the teacher, gives her age and tells that she originated a line of Baby Einstein videos and books for little kids that millions of people around the world know all about.

The third sentence in this three sentence paragraph* presents the thesis statement that says in few words what the article will be about: “She credits her success to common sense—and tenacity.”

*Try to hold your paragraphs to one-to-three sentences in length. Editors like this. Such articles are easy to read. For editors and readers, long paragraphs are tiresome.

The rest of the article explains how she used common sense and tenacity to achieve her goals. This method gives a brief table of contents to the article.

The article, “Show Us the Money” on page 65 also begins with a question. It asks whether you have ever heard of phantom nurses.

The next sentence, the thesis statement, tells how Dr. Kyriakie Sarafoglou of Cornell University’s med school grew suspicious of the way government grant dollars were being spent there. The article tells the chronology of her concern as she discovered that top scientists were treating federal grants like their own personal playthings.

Halfway through, the author inserts another thesis statement, “The shocking thing is that this is happening in many of America’s best universities and hospitals.” He develops this by listing the names of some of those institutions and by telling what they are doing.

Near the end is his last: “And here’s the final insult: diverting grant money.” He explains that recipients can use the money to fund other things.

Use of the thesis statement technique gives direction to the article. By keeping to the point, the author gains authority. Readers believe he is writing the truth. Editors like articles like this!

“Spark of Genius” on page 132 begins with a narrative. Marianne is startled out of sleep by the sound of metal banging metal. She finds her husband is cutting up her pie pans with aluminum shears. She tells him he has chemo coming up in the morning. He replies that he’s working on an idea.

Then comes the thesis statement (this time in three sentences) that carries us through the article, “Marianne knew her husband, who called himself a Type-A Plus, well enough to leave him alone with his midnight obsession. His ceaseless drive had made him a success in business. She understood that he had no choice but to fight cancer the same way.”

The article will show us how he used his creative skills to develop a treatment for cancer that has amazed the medical profession. It works on animals and the inventor, John Curley, believes it holds great promise for cancer patients.

Finally, in “Hail to the Chef” on page 159, the author Richard Wolffe begins with a double declarative sentence: “In the world of culinary news, it was one hot morsel: Laura Bush was looking for a new White House Executive Chef.” He follows that with his thesis statement that lays out what will follow: “The right person would have the talent and temperament to handle extraordinary stress—from sprawling events on the South Lawn to state dinners for world leaders to the needs and tastes of the First Family itself.”

A six-month search ends when a woman, already on the White House staff, gets the appointment. The author identifies her—who she is and how she got the appointment—and then shows how she faces the challenges of her new job.

As you read articles, look for the thesis statement. Be aware that you will rarely find one in chronological narratives that begin at a point in time and follow the main character(s) through the story.

“Diving Buddy” on page 32 begins with “It had been a long week repairing engines” at a marina as the main character leaves work and discovers that a white car with people had driven off the end of the pier. No need for a thesis statement. The adventure holds us.

Look through articles you have in the hopper. Do you have a thesis statement at or near the beginning? If not, compose a table of contents in one sentence that will alert your reader to the attractions you have to offer.

Hopefully, this key will help you write articles that sell.

Professor Dick Bohrer