Media writing course: Some warm-up exercises for next week

 

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So, next week then.

It’s the first course I’m running in a series of workshops offering my insider secrets to writing for the media.

To help us get our thinking caps on, I’d like you to read this recent travel article from the Independent, Anglesey from all angles.

Read it carefully, not just for content but for style, structure, use of language etc. Then post a comment below telling us what you think of it and why.

Did you enjoy the way the story was written? Why was the piece chosen for publication over others? What aspects did you like/dislike?

When you post, please also include a brief introduction to yourself, so we can get to know each other a bit before the class next Friday and start a bit of a dialogue between us a a group.

I’ll do the same. And, over the week to come, I’ll post a couple more links to get the discussion flowing.

Looking forward to meeting everyone next Friday – aim for 9.15am at The Glynne Arms, 3 Glynne Way, Hawarden CH5 3NS.

Please call or email with any questions.

14 comments

  1. Becky Sowray says:

    Hello! I’m Becky Sowray.
    Fiction’s where my writing starts, but I’m not the writer that sees a hut in the hills as any kind of ideal. My inspirations are the urban landscape and human inhabited spaces.

    Two early bits of writing advice bore particular fruit for me by way of cross pollination. Firstly and small scale: try writing to music. Secondly, this time large scale, write what you’re passionate about.

    There’s inspiration in music for certain, all kinds of different starting lights, it’s a passion of mine. But I found a talent and enthusiasm for writing about the music itself; so my article writing began in live gig reviews. For about eighteen months now that has run alongside poetry or prose, micro plays or culture blogging.

    And I’ve enjoyed it, and my enthusiasm for it has opened doors. The article writing has helped me to find connections between things and explore them. I want to improve on what I can do and work on some of the ideas I have.

    Thinking about the article.

    It’s a nice first person walk in, the writer very quickly anchors you in his perspective, it’s an easy step into his shoes. That knowledge, the offering up of the child’s question gives an explanation for his entitlement to an opinion. The use of humour as to why he’d normally avoid these things is a nice touch.

    I think that there’s a link-gap then because we’re straight into Anglesey. Up to this point we’ve had not mention of place and we’re offered no connection or explanation of why we’re talking about Anglesey rather than some other landscape.

    The language he chooses is unchallenging but entertaining and this is a wise choice. The trip itself is physically demanding and the descriptions need to function as an invitation, not a barrier to any potential audience.

    I’m not certain that he makes his experience of the trip all that universal. I don’t develop any empathy for him or any greater desire to pursue any of the activities. In an article of around 900 words approximately 250 of them are about him.

    There are three paragraphs, totalling about 300 words, about the emotion of the experience and the balance is devoted to geographical detail. This division of parts means that there is little danger of becoming lost in detail at any time.

    The whole article is a pleasant thing. Personally, I’d have enjoyed something a little longer; a better explanation as to why Anglesey and less of him upfront. Strangely enough as a writer with children the last thing I want to read about is writers or children. I’d have liked more of the emotional/physical response, not lots mind, and if necessary at the expense of some other parts.

    I can see that it would have been selected for its accessibility and broad appeal.

  2. Thanks Becky for going first and sharing your great comments.
    It’s great to share where you’re at with your writing and what you’d like to do next.
    As for the story, we don’t know if it has been edited for space by the com missing editor of the section, but you do raise some interesting points about tone of language, emotional response and sense of place.
    So, what do the others think? Join the discussion.
    Thanks to Becky for kicking off and over to you.

  3. Shaun Best says:

    Hi, I’m Shaun Best.

    I cut my journalistic teeth under David’s guidance at West Cheshire College, then went on to complete a one year print course in Liverpool, during which I spent a fruitful period on placement at the Leader. From restaurant/gig reviews to front page stories and tales from the courtroom, I tried my hand at everything in order to become a better writer. A culinary tale did earn me some money, although it was just expenses, so I’m technically still waiting for my first paid article. My passion is sports writing, and I have just undertaken an ambitious task of watching a match at each of the 72 Football League grounds over the course of the season, with the aim of turning a blog into a self published book at the end. I’m getting so much out of the tour, seeing places I’ve never been before and relishing the challenge of finding 72 fresh stories to engage my audience. It certainly beats getting ripped off to watch Chester play every week.

    My thoughts on the article – there is too much emphasis on the writer, especially at the beginning. Joe – a Children’s author has started the piece like one of his books. He runs the risk of alienating the target audience (adrenaline junkies/late teens/young adults) who may well have given up after a couple of paragraphs. The talk of Anglesey is suddenly sprung on the reader, it’s as if Joe remembers that there’s an article to be written. Either that or he’s been the victim of a hasty sub-editor. It feels like two stories being spliced together.

    Joe maintains the action hero theme throughout, which is uncomplicated and easy to read, but throws up the question – is it really Anglesey from all angles? It comes off more as a personal tale of Joe admitting he’s out of his comfort zone and conquering his fears.

    I did enjoy Joe’s subtle attempts to tap into the inner child amongst us all towards the end when preparing to go down the zip wire. Ironically, given the style of the article, not everyone will have made it to the end and the final plummet. For those that did, he expertly described the adrenaline/emotion involved with the flight.

    While the activities don’t necessarily appeal, Joe injected enough emotion through the language and tone which made me want to finish reading the article.

  4. Thanks for adding your comments Shaun and great to have you along.
    You make a good point about not everyone reading to the end. What makes us carry on reading a story? How can we as writers hold the attention and interest of our readers?
    Please share your thoughts.
    Over to you.

  5. Right, time to move the discussion on. You’ve read the Anglesey piece (and comments are still welcome about this) but now I’d also like to read one of my recent stories – and read it critically.
    So, please have a look at A Literary Tour of Manchester [http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/oct/04/manchester-literature-festival-walking-tour] from The Guardian and post your comments.
    In particular, what differences can you identify between this piece and the Anglesey one? What works / doesn’t work better than the first piece? What would you change?
    Over to you.

  6. Susan Davidson says:

    Hi, I’m Susan Davidson.

    My background is teaching and charity work, which included writing the fundraisers’ pages for the icon magazine. When I read the course details I thought the media writing half day study looked interesting and would help me to discover if this might be an area that I could develop.

    Having read the travel article I thought that the title was an interesting play on the idea of exploring the geographical environment of Anglesey as well as the positional angles which he experienced whilst taking part in his chosen challenges.

    Was it a travel article? That would depend upon what the reader hoped to discover about the island. What it did do was to describe three adventures that can be experienced in relatively close proximity. However I felt the emphasis was firmly placed with the author and his feelings about his experiences.

    I particularly liked his description of what motivated him to undertake the adventures which are in such stark contrast to his everyday life. Each activity was briefly described along with the author’s feelings, through this he was able to engage the reader. His obvious delight at having survived and enjoyed the three experiences were clear. His reactions were at times child like particularly the zip wire where fear and exhilaration combined to leave a lasting impression on him and possibly his readers who may feel that if he can survive and enjoy such a challenge then maybe they could?.

    The article is easy to read and he does include further information about travel to and accommodation on Anglesey, as well as web links to the activities that he experienced.

    The piece was probably chosen because it focused on activities rather than simply being a scenic description of the island and the activities could be an attraction for a range of age groups particularly family holidaymakers.

    If there was anything to dislike it could be the initial focus on the writer and his work, however this does give a background to explain why he felt so prompted to experience challenges that offered him insight into the life of his spy hero Jimmy Coates.

  7. Thanks for posting your comments, Susan. You make a good point about engaging readers and including a call to action – the info box at the end so we as readers can do it, too.
    Have a look now for comparison at A Literary Tour of Manchester [http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/oct/04/manchester-literature-festival-walking-tour] and see what differences you can find in the approach between the two pieces.

  8. Shaun Best says:

    The introduction was funny but true, summing up three of Manchester’s generalisations nicely. Anyone who’s been to Manchester will be able to relate to that. The opening appeals to a broader audience, while taking care of the “What, Why, When, Where, Who.”

    This article is a lot more factual than the Anglesey one, with a basic structure of one paragraph per location, before swiftly moving on. There is certainly a lot more to take in than the Anglesey piece and I needed to go back a few times to refresh some of the detail. The lack of quotes from the guide (Kate) gives the impression that she didn’t have much to say and like Anglesey, ended up being more of a self-discovery trip.

  9. Becky Sowray says:

    It’s quite a bit shorter and hasn’t got the same walk in of offering us a little of the author. I was surprised actually when I did a word count, it felt longer and not in a bad way. It covers a lot of ground – a total of nine attractions in all.

    I’d have like to have seen more made of the ‘things’ grouped together – themes – the modernism of Cooper Clarke, Cornerhouse and Duffy – then set against the modernism of their times in the neoclassical and Gaskell etc.

    It’s hard to factor in audience – this sounds fantastic to me (honorary mancunian, writer, lover of loud music) and isn’t a difficult sell. What do you do with that? How do you put yourself into someone else’s shoes? How do I un-know when I’m trying to do exposition for others?

  10. Thanks for your comments, Becky. Good questions: how do we put ourselves into the shoes of our readers to make a story appeal to them as well as us?
    Maybe some people who haven’t posted yet have some thoughts to share?
    Join the discussion.

  11. Hello, I’m Cheryl and I’m a Marketing Executive for a local charity marketing firm. We are best known for our Free Wills Month campaigns which run each year throughout the country on behalf of big brand national charities. I am hoping that the course will help me to prepare press releases and editorial more effectively to guarantee placement in the mixture of press titles we target, whilst at the same time appealing to our target audience. I also produce Free Wills Month campaign wording for use on Martin Lewis ‘Money Saving Expert’ website, newsletter and television coverage on Good Morning Britain.

    With regards to the Anglesey article, I liked the way it had three clear sections, the beginning which explained why he was writing, the middle detailing the adventure in relation to the article and the ending, with his thoughts of the challenges he faced.

    I believe the piece was chosen for publication because writing from an experience with a creditable background is more interesting to readers than simply stating facts in the hope of encouraging adventure seekers to visit North Wales. However I don’t believe the article fits the title of ‘Anglesey from all angles’, especially as only a very small part of the islands appeal was covered, it was more of a childhood story, created to relate to the new main attraction of the ‘Zip Wire’. My dislike was that there was too much emphasis on the author.

    In contrast the Manchester article sets the scene of Manchester straight away rather than concentrating on the author. I like the way the question, “But a top destination for literary types?” is asked. It’s a way of inviting the reader to join you on a journey to find out the answer by reading on.

    Providing information of the places described as you move through the tour is a positive to the article, you don’t have to wait until the end like the Anglesey article.

    As you pass around the tour, the bite sized history facts tempt readers to want to find out more without giving too much away. I like the way facts are kept to short paragraphs for easy reading. The article feels longer than the Anglesey one, even though it is shorter. I believe this is due to the amount of informative detail which is crammed in, however I don’t feel it is too over powering.

    The section “Beyond words:…” breaks up the article and gives readers the choice of finding out extra information about hotels, subsistence.

    In response to Becky’s question, when trying to put myself in the shoes of a reader when drafting a press release, I like to think of the questions I would ask if I was them and attempt to answer them. If the target age group of readers is different to my own I ask people within the target range for their questions and comments on the subject and tackle them.

  12. Paul Diggory says:

    Hi everyone

    My wife booked the course for me and as a consequence I’d overlooked this opportunity until David contact ed me this morning. Having not long been home from work, I’ll try to find time for a scan before bedtime. My day job is chief executive of a housing association so I’m afraid time is my enemy when it comes to writing. Often ideas will remain just that, which can be frustrating.

    I take any opportunity to write for professional housing journals on a range of subjects and will be starting work soon on a feature on the regeneration of West Rhyl. Otherwise I enjoy travel writing, some samples of which you can see on my website. The name comes from a holiday we took with my brother-in-law and his wife – my love of a good travel guide to ensure we got the most from our trips earned me the nickname ‘Guide Book Gollum’.

    My main goal in attending is simply to be able to write better and being able to be paid for my efforts would be a nice bonus. When I retire in a few years time I would love to be able to spend more time writing, hopefully developing some of the ideas I have now. I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow morning and meeting David and the group.

    Cheers

    Paul

  13. Thanks Cheryl and Paul for adding your comments.
    It’s great to know where you you’re at with your writing and hear your thoughts on the two stories.
    So, one last link for some bedtime reading. We’ll look at this piece in more entail tomorrow.
    Have a look at a piece I wrote this week for the Daily Telegraph based around OCD Awareness Week [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11154051/Sometimes-I-feel-OCD-has-completely-emasculated-me.html].
    Please come with pen and paper, a WiFi-enabled device (laptop etc.) and a story idea to develop. There’s parking on site.
    Look forward to meeting everyone tomorrow.

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