How to Write a Yearbook Feature There is no substitute for good writing. It flows. It glows. It lives.
…Make Them a Memory Good yearbook copy has one primary objective: It should make the reader smile, laugh, or cry 10, 20, 30 years from now. Its shelf life is infinite.
1. Do Your Backgrounding VERY Important! Save yourself time and heartache . . . Prior to interviewing anyone, sit down with a member(s) of the club, team, class, show, etc. and talk about what made this year different, unique, etc.
Find a central idea or angle for your story. How can I present this topic in a new way? What made this year different that will matter to everyone involved 20 years from now? 2. Determine an Angle
It is imperative that you recreate in words, that particular year for that particular group. Capture their true feelings in your story.Wall Rule # ????Make your words worth the cost of the ink….
Avoid Like the Plague . . . . . . those overworked, tired, could fit any year, any school, pick it up, change the names, and put in any yearbook, any school, any where, contraband ideas like dedication, team work, hard work paid off, the team bonded together as a unit, aren’t they awesome, etc. angles What about ‘Even Winners Cry’
Trust me on this one thing… Sure, pictures are supposedly worth a thousand words but Wall Rule # ???? I GUARANTEE you that in 5, 10, 20, …50 years, it is the COPY if, and only if, you have recreated the time, place, and feelings through words, that is going to make your classmates laugh, cry, smile or frown.
And if you don’t believe me… “Stop looking through magazines for visual ideas or bullet points. Start READING magazines to understand verbal voice and approach. Understand that in the professional world, a verbal package ALWAYS comes before a visual package.” -Dan Austin,Casa Roble HS. Orangeville, CA
3. The Interview Process As a journalist, your story is only going to be as good as your sources. AND, your sources are only going to be as good as the interview you conduct.
Today’s high school yearbook is considered journalism…perhaps more than newspaper, because of the variety of skills involved. Consequently, as a journalist, you have to rely on sources. This is not fiction writing. How you choose sources and manipulate the interview is up to you… but, it is no longer about you.
From my dear, dear friend H.L. Hall (who tells the greatest jokes in the world): “Dig! Dig! Dig! When interviewing, dig for those memorable, unusual quotes that play on reader’s emotions. Make them laugh, cry, frown, grimace, groan or smile.”
Compose good questions to use in your interview.A.Avoidyes/no questions.B. Ask ‘open-ended’ questions C. Ask plenty of HOW and WHY questions. D. Use DESCRIBE questions. E. You are asking questions to get specifics /details for your copy. ?
INTERVIEWthe subject. Do not let the words “Give me a quote” ever come out of your mouth.
Sit down and talk to the subject with your question sheet in hand, but don’t be limited by your pre-interview questions. Ask follow-up questions. Write down everything the person says or use a recorder.
Follow Up! Always follow up on everything your source says in response to one of your questions. Never let an answer fall flat. Remember a journalist’s best question is ‘Why?’ . . . and ask it twice. And, ‘How do you feel about that?’ ‘Can you describe that for me?’
If a person you are interviewing says “just make something up,” tell them you are taking journalism, not creative writing. Give them more time or ask more questions to spur them into saying something actually worth putting down on paper.
Avoid “I enjoyed”, “I was excited”, “It was interesting”, “hard work and determination”, or any other cliché quotes. Remember, if you have heard it before, it’s a cliché!
When interviewing, you are after the ‘Sexy’ Quote Wall Rule # ????? ‘Any direct quote you use must be worthy of a spotlight.’ No one else could have said it better… or the source is very prominent.
What about this quote? By halftime the Dogs trailed 26-0 and spirit couldn’t have been scraped from the locker room floor. “Do you want to know what football is,” defensive coach Bill Smith raved as he paced the mud clumped locker room floor during halftime. “Football isn’t just X’s and O’s on a chalkboard. Football is how well you block, tackle, and get after people You play with every muscle, gut and bone you’ve got, for God’s sake.” But, they knew what football was…….
Do you see how mannerisms are included in framing quotes. Let me see it, not just hear it! But in order to do that, you have to be there…..Wall Rule # ????“Pick me up and put me there.”
Much of what a source says may not be worthy of quotation marks but you also need information for your reporting paragraphs. Source info can be used 3 ways:a. Direct Quote(if worthy of spotlight)b. Indirect Quote - paraphrase the info for use in a reporting paragraphc. Partial Quote - perhaps only put quotation marks around a few words, the meat of the quote
After the interview have source sign your notes. These will be kept on file for two reasons: People always think they didn’t say what they said At late night editing sessions when we need a bit more copy, we can get it.
Begin Writing Immediately Wall Rule # ??? Write in hot blood, not cold blood! As soon as the interview is over begin randomly spewing all your ideas on paper. Your best ideas won’t be there later. You can’t bottle them up for future use.
Write the copy using interviews using five or more sources.Minimum, twoPrimary (authority) sources and threeSecondary (students) sources.Almost as much as students like to see themselves pictured in the book, they like to be quoted.
3. Writing the Lead the Showcase of the Story, the Do or Die Moment A good feature lead teases the reader and could extend 2 paragraphs until the ‘nut graf’. Wall Rule # ??? A good lead should grab the reader by the lapels and hurl him into the story.
Wall Rule # ???The reader must be immediately committed to reading the piece by the first sentence.“The two men stood outside the deserted downtown building,their dignity in shambles.”
From the NSPA Guidebook….. • “Unfortunately some yearbook staffs are still writing leads like the following: • “Play production is a club designed for those students who are interested in producing a play.” • “This year’s Pep Club promoted spirit.” • “The Stage Crew was responsible for building props and setting up the stage.” • “The purpose of Spanish Club was to create greater understanding of the Spanish culture.” Sound familiar?
Major categories of leads: • Narrative/Anecdote • Description • Comparison Contrast • Shocking Statement • Allusion • Suspended Interest
or in the RAREST of cases… • Quote Lead • Question Lead • Summary Lead
Let’s start with the rare ones:QUOTE LEADS are banned in most newsrooms because they are usually weak cop outs. But, if you do get that golden quote…. NOT: “We had a lot of injuries but we bonded.”BETTER: “I felt like a dog going off to die.”
In order for the dreaded quote lead to work it must have two parts • Part 1 - A quote lead must not only contain an awesome ‘grab you by the lapels’ quote. It cannot stand alone • Part 2 has to be either a narrative or descriptive paragraph, which continues the lead process - until you reach the ‘nut graf’ • The ‘nut graf’ is what tells the reader what the story is about
How’s this?(See how the quote is followed by description? Do you see metaphors?)“I felt like a dog going off to die.” The haunting of a ballplayer debilitated by injury doesn’t come in blatent attacks. It’s a guerilla, not a bombadier. It is bothersome to the mind, nettling to the spirit. The Royals know the scenario. Their pitching potential has been gutted by it. One. two, three times in the span of a year, a season ending blow has been struck. Each has been delivered a message sharper than any of the scapels that sliced into their playing days. You might never pitch again.
Using occasional literary devices is paramount to new journalism feature writing, but there are some rules: • Wall Rule # ????: • If you have heard it before, it is cliché.(anything cliché in the previous lead’s metaphors?) • And, don’t overdo lit devices. • Wall Rule # ???? • Don’t wear a diamond ring on every finger!
And if you do get the golden quote… “You tired? You wanna be champions? Do you? You wanna be champions you gotta push, you’ve gotta work hard, you’ve gotta sweat! You’re gonna thank me when that guy lying next to you is dying,” Head Wrestling Coach Chip Sherman bellowed. ‘Champions.’ His words burned through the mezzanine like fire as he paced the blue and gold mats among his team. They were young ……
Another rarely used lead… QUESTION LEADSare banned in most newsrooms because they are also usually weak cop outs. Do you know what Student Council did in March? They held a blood drive.
Very rarely you can find a decent question lead A question lead is usually a yawner with the expected two parts - the question and the answer. And too many times the second part begins “This is how’ ‘This is what’ ‘This is why’…. In order for a question lead to work (just like in order to make a quote lead work) it has to be full of detail.
Does watching film and eating Oreos while listening to White Zombie sound a little odd before competition? This is how junior Ben Graves mentally prepares himself before every race. Now look at the question lead example on page 2 of your leads handout….
Let’s talk about the ‘good’ leads… In lead writing or any part of your story every word counts!!! A Pulitzer Prize winning writer once said that she wrote as if every word cost her $10. In journalism there is no room for the Bologne Sandwich words that we use to make our English essays longer!!!
Narrative / Anecdote Lead • tells a story • creates a situation and draws the reader in • the reader can often identify with the characters or situation • usually includes description
Narrative / Anecdote Lead… Justin Greer’s 2,800 friends have never seen him cry. His father has seen him cry only once — the day last October when doctors told the 16-year-old football player that what he thought was a bad case of the flu was actually leukemia. He cried a bit,” Mr. Greer said. “But then he squared off and said, ‘Well, I’m not dead yet.’ And I haven’t seen him cry since, although he’s told me that sometimes he cries at night when he’s all alone.”
Descriptive Lead • conjures up a mental picture of a subject or event • helps portray the mood and setting • uses vivid details - should create motion and sensory perception • allows the reader to hear, see, smell, feel the situation • one of the most effective leads for yearbook copy
Descriptive Lead… It’s noon on Thursday at Folly Beach, a stretch of sand raised a few inches above the surrounding tidal marsh and sprinkled with undistinguished bungalows and weathered seafood shacks. It’s gray, lightly sprinkling. Not unusual for a September afternoon. But big breakers are sending foam over the seawall and the houses are deserted. The town has the eerie feeling of an unnaturally empty place - like a dusty street in a dime Western just before the bad guys arrive. Hurricane Hugo is just 12 hours away.
Descriptive Lead… First the eyes. They are large and blue, a light, opaque blue, the color of robin’s eggs. And if, on a sunny spring day, you look straight into these eyes - eyes that cannot look back at you- the sharp April light makes them turn pale, like the thin blue of a high cloudless sky. Ten tear-old Calvin Stanley, the owner of these eyes and a boy who has been blind since birth, likes this description and asks to hear it twice. He listens as only he can listen, then: “Orange used to be my favorite color but now it’s blue,” he announces.
Descriptive Lead… The eyes flutter between the short thick lashes, “I know there’s light blue and there’s dark blue, but what does the sky blue look like?” he wants to know. And if you watch his face as he listens to your description, you get a sense of a picture being clicked firmly into place behind the pale blue eyes. He is a boy who has a a lot of pictures stored in his head….
Descriptive Lead… The Tres Grande Vite bullet train hissed to a stop at the depot in Irun, Spain. Crammed into the overbooked front car filled with suitcases, string instruments and a drunken soccer team were 30 members of the Strolling Strings, their sponsor Karen McGhee and three of the group’s four parent chaperones. After barely making the train as it departed Paris three hours earlier, the group was happy to get off the train, thinking that the worst part of the trip was over. They were wrong.
Let’s Build a Descriptive Lead… First paragraph Seventies disco pulsated throughout the burgeoning room where a throng of students danced among a whirlwind mass of multi-colored polyester, go-go boots, the funky tie-dye. Second paragraph - reveal more info (status details) Nut Graf - what is story about
What are ‘status details’? Journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe observed that "every person's 'real self,' his psyche, his soul, is largely the product of fashion and other outside influences on his status.” A yearbook is a time capsule and should be full of status details - references to clothing, music, movies, cars, food,,,,anything that dates the year.
Intro assignment….. (Substitute Sion) Gastonia - city of redneck farmhands with limited vocabularies, wads of chewing tobacco and Dale Earnhardt t-shirts cruising down Franklin in lowriders? Undeniably, Gastonia is viewed differently by different people. However, a large number of both Gastonia residents and ‘them that ain’t from ‘round here’ see the town as farm community populated by pick up trucks with shotguns on the dashboard and rebel flags in the windows. On the other hand, others see it as an emerging suburb of Charlotte one with small town charm yet lacking all the big city headaches.