371298: Introduction to Literary Journalism
- Winter 2020
- Section 1
- 3 Credits
- 01/15/2020 to 03/24/2020
- Modified 02/27/2020
15 Jan 2020 to 24 Mar 2020
Literary journalism is nonfiction prose that transcends “who, what, where, and when” to give a more detailed, richer, and vivid picture of real events. It combines an immersive approach to reporting with the aims and techniques of fiction. Although this type of writing has roots in antiquity (i.e., Thucydides’s The Peloponnesian War), contemporary practitioners include Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Gay Talese. Today, literary journalism appears in periodicals such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and Harper’s Magazine, as well as in the magazines or literary supplements of many major newspapers. By the end of the course, you have an understanding of the basic techniques for reporting and writing such journalism and at least one project started.
The course is designed for students interested in both studying and contributing to this distinct branch of creative writing. The course has two primary objectives:
- Introducing important works of literary journalism and providing tools with which to analyze them.
- Providing the basic techniques to report and write such journalism.
Each objective should serve to reinforce and elevate the other. The exemplary pages of LJ forerunners will offer models of technique, subject and style for your own efforts, while at the same time your fieldwork and craft practice will broaden your understanding of literary journalism as a unique, demanding and rewarding genre of creative non-fiction, one with a large and growing market.
By the end of the quarter, students should be able to pitch, research and write feature-length LJ articles. Students will also be able to discuss works of LJ in terms of style and structure, and to offer constructive notes on other student articles in a workshop environment.
Journalism is, in theory, 'true.' At times, the factual nature of your truth may come into question. As a result, journalists keep careful records of their interactions while on assignment.
1 small notebook, preferably a writer’s notebook. You will be using this for your reporting notes (or tablet, ipad, etc).
A 'flip book' for taking notes during interviews. Even when your voice recorder is running, it's helpful to take notes of your impressions and reactions.
A voice recorder is essential for interviews. Most smart phones have a recording app.
Unless you are gifted with a photographic memory, you will find that the details of interviews and events start fading almost immediately. Notes makes the writing possible and the better the notes are, the better the end result will usually be. You'll also have protection from accusations of misattribution, libel, etc.
The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism
- Author: Kerrane, Yagoda, eds.
- Publisher: Scribner
- Availability: Campus Bookstore, Online Booksellers
It will be very hard to follow the course without a copy of the book.
Your LJ Profile
Your central assignment will begin with choosing a subject (either a person, place, or thing) as the topic for a short profile. Part of the assignment will be to justify why this subject is story material. We will discuss how to shape a profile in class.
The first part of the assignment is to write a scene, drawn from the research for your major article. Focus on one of your major characters and base your scene on information derived from interviewing and observing your subject. This scene should be something that you plan on using in your final project and should exhibit the kind of stylistic techniques you will be using. This CANNOT be a friend, roommate, family member, fellow student, or UCLA faculty. An important aspect of LJ is that it requires you to reach outside of your comfort zone.
Take photos during your research. These will serve as an aid in reconstructing the environments of your topic. The quality of the photographs won’t affect your grade but you will have to upload some of them into Canvas. The photos are a tool to help you write better.
The second major assignment is to produce a first, polished draft of the profile of 3,500-5,000 words. This first draft should not be seen as a “rough” draft. Instead, it should be your best work. You’ll get both oral and written feedback from your peers and from the instructor.
The final draft is your revision based on feedback from myself and your fellow students. In short, the three-part creation of your article will move from scene to rough draft to final draft. Writing is revision.
Journalists who miss deadlines get fired. Students who miss deadlines, well…I can’t fire you, but late assignments will be penalized at a rate of part of a letter-grade per day (i.e., B to B-). I won’t accept any assignment that is more than two days late. Assignments at the end of the quarter must be turned in on time, or I won’t accept them. If you do not turn in one of the major assignments, you will fail the course.
Details of all assignments will be posted in the Discussion forum of that week's module. Any lectures and/or messages will be in the Discussion forum. Your essays will be posted there as well. Be sure to post all assignments in the correct thread.
Writing workshops require the submission of your own work for critique: that is, other students read your pieces and offer written feedback. The
instructor (moi) will provide comments as well. In general, you are responsible for responding to three different classmates’ exercises each week (three fulfills the requirement but you can respond to as many of your classmates’ exercises as you wish). Please spread the responses evenly, so that everyone is receiving roughly the same number of comments.
Please remember that when we discuss work in public fashion, there is great opportunity to injure feelings feelings, even with out the least iota of malice. Try to focus on the technical aspects of the material and avoid a psychological evaluation of the writer. Good feedback can be any length, but it should avoid personal attacks, insults, or harassment of any kind. Your stance should be that of a careful and interested reader. You’re making suggestions or observations the writer can take into the next draft or into other pieces.
In my feedback, I will always assume your work is a draft in progress and gear my comments toward improvements you can make in future drafts, even though you may not actually choose to rewrite that particular piece.
Feedback is most helpful if it makes specific points. It’s least helpful when it deals in generalizations. See the examples below.
“Your piece is great.”
“I really didn’t like this. It just didn’t work for me.”
These are weak and uninformative feedback, because they leave the writer nothing specific to work on. Overall judgments like this are usually not helpful in revision.
“I like the way you used point of view.”
“The point of view seems to change throughout the piece.”
These are better, because they help the writer focus on a specific aspect of the piece. Still lacking specificity, however.
“I couldn’t figure out whose point of view we’re seeing in Paragraph 4.”
“I was really moved by--” (quote the line or lines from the writer’s submission that were most effective, and tell the writer specifically why you liked it).
“The way you handled (dialogue, description, point of view, etc.) in this piece was particularly effective because--” (point to the element the writer used best and tell the writer why you liked it).
“You really got my attention at--” (and identify what did it for you, so that the writer knows
The comments in Example 3 are useful comments. They let the writer know whether a specific aspect of the piece is working, giving some idea where he or she might best spend revision time. Notice that useful feedback doesn’t necessarily have to offer suggestions. It can merely observe, leaving the writer to work out solutions for herself.
Your feedback can also build on the responses of others. For example:
“I agree with Jane’s point about the effective use of imagery in this piece, and I want to point out a few more examples that really worked for me--”
Try to frame all comments in terms of your own experiences of the piece. The fact that something didn’t work for you or you didn’t understand an aspect of the writing may be a reflection of your own background and preferences. In other words, instead of saying, “The ending made no sense,” a more constructive comment would be, “I was a little confused at the conclusion because--” Be creative in framing your responses. Include substance, so that the writer has something to go on in figuring out how she is reaching you.
A note about Netiquette: Be aware that in an online class that is driven by written words, there’s a particular danger of misunderstandings unless words are carefully chosen. In your comments to others, be careful how you frame your words. Sharing thoughts politely and respectfully can sometimes pose a challenge when working online—we lack our usual communication cues of vocal intonation, facial expression, and gestures. Also, we may well find ourselves disagreeing in our conversations about published writing and about one another’s work. So we must make an extra effort in our postings to be polite and respectful.
Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at: https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/str/studentConduct.jsp
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Course and Instructor Evaluation
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About Your Online Course Materials
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An overview of what LJ is, and what it most definitely is not.
Conducting and editing an interview into a monologue.
||Nuts & Bolts||
Pitching Your Story
Who, What, When, Where, Why
How to Get the Story
Fly on the Wall or One of the Boys?
||The Unreliable Narrator||
'Journalistic objectivity' as oxymoron.
Getting it down before getting it right.
Irony, humor, melodrama and not being 'on the nose.'
||Research and Serendipity||
How to win the LJ lottery. 2nd draft due.
||The Natural World||
Approaches to descriptive writing.
||Close Reading: It Matters||
From reading to writing.
||The Way Forward||
Forum on publishing; Final draft due