January 2008 Archives

Class meets Thursdays, 5:45 to 8:15 pm

Syllabus Copyright Jessica Snyder Sachs

OVERVIEW: Writing for Magazines will introduce you to the art & business of magazine writing. We will hone the special skills necessary in writing three genres of magazine stories: the review, the personal essay/opinion piece, and the magazine feature, with emphasis on the latter. In this course, you will push beyond your skills as news writers to add greater depth to your reporting and a narrative richness to your writing. Over the course of this semester you will learn how to

* Recognize strong magazine story ideas
* Interview to develop rich narrative
* Write strong, feature-style leads
* Organize full-length features
* Engage readers with artful language, narrative, and tone
* Craft query letters
* Navigate the magazine story's production path, from story pitch to publication

The overall goal of this class is to help you expand and hone your writing skills, with an emphasis on engaging prose that captures readers' imagination and pulls them into and through an in-depth article that entertains as it informs.

On the business side, you will gain a working knowledge of the editorial process of magazine publishing, from the perspective of both the freelance writer and staff editor. Traditionally, feature writing has been thought of as "writing for magazines." But increasingly, features have a prominent place in newspapers and as web content. We will include these markets in our explorations.

The coursework will emphasize the differences between news and feature writing and explore the different types of articles published in magazines. The class will learn to discern a magazine's editorial style and readership and will analyze examples of both good and bad magazine journalism.

Most importantly, this class is an opportunity for you all to stretch as writers. As your instructor, I will be your devoted editor, and as a class, we will critique (not criticize) each other's work. There will in-class writing assignments. You will also write three major stories outside of class.

Please remember that writing, like any craft, can only improve through constructive criticism and a redoubling of effort. Bring a sense of humor about yourself and the process to class, as well as compassion for your fellow writers who are likewise struggling to master the tricky art of clear and enjoyable prose.

This class should be a place where all of you feel nurtured as well as challenged. It is, in essence, a workshop, where everyone should be able to give and take suggestions for improvement in a supportive context. Also remember that you are just starting on what may be a life-long path of improvement as a writer. Along the way, you will work with scores of editors, and every good one will help you improve your writing. This class is just the first step.

1. William Blundell's The Art & Craft of Feature Writing (still the best there is).
2. William Zinsser's On Writing Well
3. A good thesaurus AND style manual. (No, the grammar and spell checker on your word program is NOT enough.) I recommend for all writers: Strunk & White's Elements of Style (a cheap, little book & a good read)

If grammar is a challenge for you, check out "The Guide to Grammar & Writing" at http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm. I especially recommend spending some time (okay, a lot of time) with the site's interactive sentence diagramming lessons (last topic under pull-down menu titled "word and sentence level").

3. Personal reading: Read magazines. Read webzines. Out loud, under your breath, every day. Ask yourself, "Do I like it?" If so, why does it work? If not, why doesn't it work? You can't learn to write without appreciating the good stuff, and learning what to avoid from the drek. Be sure to read publications that you'd love to publish your work.

* Textbooks (they're small paperbacks)
* Laptop computer
* Work folder (interviews, notes, research material for major assignments; when time allows we will work on these in class)

ASSIGNMENT MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS: Each out-of-class assignment needs to be submitted both electronically (profsachsATgmail.com) and in hardcopy on its due date. Both are due at or before the START of class. Hard copy MUST be in manuscript form: typed and double-spaced; with page number, author name and story slug on each page; and stapled in the upper left corner. Please leave a large margin for comments.

In addition to in-class writing exercises, you will produce two major writing assignments that will go through several (graded) drafts. The first will be a short (approximately 1,000 word) feature, review, OR personal essay. The second will be a full-length feature (2,000 - 3,000 words). You will also a write professional-quality query letters (appropriately targeted to an actual publication) for each of these major assignments. I strongly encourage you to pursue publication of your pieces, if only in the campus newspaper.

You will each give a brief presentation to the class on a magazine or webzine of your choice. In doing so, you will investigate and report on the magazine's tone (straight, humorous, conversational, jargony, literary, servicey, etc.) target readership (college students, young mothers, fitness nuts, men who love cars and gadgets, etc.), and its feature needs.

TARDINESS & ABSENCES: This being a workshop class, your attendance and punctuality affects everyone. As we meet just once a week, each class will cover a lot of ground. So, no, I can't "tell you what you missed" afterwards. If you must miss a week, it's your responsibility to contact a classmate to find out about any in-class assignments and lessons you missed. You will be responsible for both. I strongly urge each of you to exchange email and/or phone numbers with two or more classmates so you can help each other out.

GRADING: No major exams. You will be graded primarily on your writing assignments. Your class participation and peer feedback make up a significant part of your grade, as do punctuality and attendance. Importantly, all of your written work must be factually and grammatically accurate, and the final drafts of your full features must be turned in with an annotated fact-checking copy (to be explained further in class). If you feel a grade or critique is unfair or mistaken, please discuss it with me. I won't take offense.

Grading weights and point breakdown (of 200 points possible):
15% (30 points) short feature, rvw, or essay (approx 1,000 words)
10% (20) short feature/rvw/essay revision
25% (50) long feature (2,000 to 3,000 words)
10% (20) long feature revision
10% (20) In-class writing exercises
10% (20) query letters
10% (20) peer feedback
5% (10) class participation
5% (10) quizzes (5) and market presentation (5)

Attendance: Add 5 points for no more than one absence over the course of the semester; deduct 5 points for each of three or more absences, also for chronic tardiness (i.e. 4 absences, deduct 10) NOTE: This attendance plan provides built-in leeway for up to two absences (for any reason) without penalty. Further absenteeism brings deductions, regardless of cause. This is NOT a class you can pass without attending.

188-200 points = A
180-187 points = A-
172-179 points = B+
164-171 points = B
156-163 points = B-
148-155 points = C+
140-147 points = C
132-139 points = C-
122-131 points = D+
110-121 points = D
< 110 points = F

Important dates:
1st story draft due: Feb. 14
1st story polished: Feb. 28
1st query letter: Feb. 28
1st story revision: March 13
Full feature draft: April 3
2nd query letter: April 3
Full feature polished: April 10
Full feature revision: April 24

READING: Read the two required texts-start to finish-as early as possible in the semester. They're not long, and they're crucial reading for any journalist. I will let you know when we will be discussing a particular section in the next class. We may have quizzes on some of these crucial sections.

DEADLINES: As you all know, they matter in journalism... big time. Unexcused, late articles will lose a half grade for each DAY (not week) overdue. If you must miss a class on the day an assignment is due, make sure your assignment is in my email inbox BY the start of that day's class. If you miss a class on the day of an in-class assignment, you are responsible for contacting a classmate for instructions and handing in the assignment before or at the beginning of the next class. If serious illness or a personal crisis prevents you from missing a deadline, contact me in a timely manner-if at all possible, before you miss your deadline. Please don't abuse my faith in you.

PLAGIARISM & FALSIFICATION: This being an upper level journalism course, I trust that the following warning is as unnecessary as it is mandatory: Plagiarism of any part of an assignment and/or falsification of any quotes or facts will result in an automatic failure for the assignment and quite possibly for the entire course, the latter on consultation with department faculty. As noted above, final manuscripts will be subject to fact checking.

COMMUNICATING WITH ME: If something's confusing or bothering you, please talk with me sooner rather than later. My goal is to help you become a better writer, wherever you are in the process. Unless your question is intensely personal, I urge you to raise it in class. If you're unclear about something, chances are great that others are as well. (Constructive questions also contribute to your class participation grade.) For personal matters, please catch me during each week's "midclass break" or, failing that, immediately after class. I can also make myself available before class by prior arrangement.

SEMESTER SCHEDULE: Note-this syllabus is a general travel plan. There will be times when we slow down, others when we speed ahead. As opportunities present themselves, we may also take the occasional detour.

Week 1. Jan 10
TOPICS: Course overview, personal introductions, Topic: How Does writing for magazines differ from standard news writing? Qualities of a superior review, personal essay, magazine feature, If time, "The Feature Lead"
* Writing Exercise (lead-writing)
* Assignment 1: clip two magazine features and one review or personal essay that work for you; repeat for two features and one review or essay that doesn't work; deconstruct why each works or doesn't work.
* Assignment 2: come to next class with two or more story ideas you'd like to pursue

Week 2. Jan 17
TOPICS: Developing Story Ideas (Angles vs. Topics), Types of Features, Structure of the Feature Story
* Deconstructing magazine stories: What works and what doesn't (in-class discussion of assignment, hand in)
* Primary vs. Secondary Sourcing
* Brainstorming ideas for your semester feature or features
* If time, Internet research for first major assignment
* Assignments: Write up brief summary of the first story you will pursue; contact primary sources to be interviewed

Week 3. Jan. 24
TOPICS: Bird by Bird, The deeply informative review; the personal essay/opinion piece
* In-class writing exercise: self-descriptive narration
* One-on-one discussions on chosen story topics

Week 4. Jan 31
TOPICS: Shitty First Drafts, Interviewing, Quotes-how to get them, how to handle them; telling details; relevant narrative
* Writing Exercise (interviewing for insight and color)
* Assignment: Complete interviews for first feature/rvw/essay (intvw notes due next class)

Week 5: Feb 7
TOPICS: Narrative Writing, Reliable Sources and Fact-checking, peer review procedures (handout)
* Trouble shooting first assignment
* If time, in class work on 1st feature/rvw/essay (bring your notes and materials)
* Assignment: complete draft of first feature/rvw/essay

Week 6: Feb 14
Topics: Writing a Good Ending, The Query Letter
* Troubleshooting
* In-class peer review
* Assignment: polished feature & query letter due Feb 28th (no class next week)

Week 7: Feb. 21, no class, complete feature and query letter, I will be available by phone and email throughout class period (619-422-4653 (California); profsachs@gmail.com)

Week 8: Feb 28
DUE AT START OF CLASS: POLISHED STORY #1, with peer review copy attached
TOPICS: Passive vs. Active Voice, How to Write a Paragraph, Co-ordinating and Sub-ordinating Ideas
Assignment: develop at least two ideas for full-length feature & bring to conference

Week 9: March 6
Topic: Revising, grammar troubleshooting, word choice
* In-class writing exercise (grammar & word choice)
* Discuss story ideas for full-length feature
* Sign up for student conferences next week
* Assignment: Bring to conference--Revision with fact-checking copy; ideas for second feature

Week 10: March 13
* Assignment, completed draft of long feature & formal query letter--due April 3rd

Week 11: March 20: Maundy Thursday, No class
Week 12: March 27: Spring Break, No class

Week 13: April 3rd
DUE AT START OF CLASS: Query letter, Draft of long feature
New Topics: market presentations (explanation and sign up)
* Troubleshooting
* Peer Review
* Assignment: polish Long Feature for submission next week

Week 14: April 10
DUE START OF CLASS: POLISHED FEATURE, with peer review attached
Topics: Word Craft I--Beyond Cliche; Word Craft II--Voice
* WRITING EXERCISE (word craft)
* Market presentations

Week 15: April 17
Topics: The business side of magazine writing, the manuscript path
* Market presentations
* Assignment: Feature revisions

Week 16: April 24
DUE START OF CLASS: Revisions with fact-checking copy
FILM & Discussion: Shattered Glass

And, finally, a few quotes to ponder
"You must first learn to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method." Mai-maisze Luch'ai, in The Way of Chinese Painting (1679)
"Writing is nature's way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is." Editorial cartoonist and satirist Richard Guindon (1989).


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This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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