Going into Experiment 3, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I felt really great about my open letter last time around, and I wasn’t sure how to follow that up with a new idea. My original plans were to write a photo essay about certain works by Manuel Alvarez Bravo (he is the photographer of the image I analyzed in my origin piece). After researching that a bit, I had difficulty articulating my thoughts about each photograph and how they related to one another. I could not think of a way to move forward after that. Well, at least until I saw Julie’s comments during my workshop. She suggested figuring out my explicit audience for the open letter and writing an article based on what that person/organization was doing (or failing to do) about the current state of mental illness on the Michigan campus. I thought about doing a news report, but that seemed too broad for me. So I decided to do the next best thing, one that is directly tied into University of Michigan’s lifestyle: the Daily article.
Now, I’m not a writer for the Daily, so I am unfamiliar with how they do things over there. So, instead of researching typical conventions of the Daily article (not even sure that exists), I decided to read a few political pieces of the Daily to see how student writers would go about tackling those sorts of issues. The first thing I noticed was the episodic framing of each article. The authors usually insisted on basing the article around a personal anecdote or story of a student or faculty member. I’m not sure how I would go about talking to faculty members if this were my final project, but let’s take things one step at a time. Next, there was a consistent theme of policy focus. Each article not only referenced specific policies that the University has instated, but also discusses how faculty and staff fail to adhere to these policies/ what would be done differently if the policy was followed correctly.
Those are the main conventions I noticed in the articles I read. If anyone actually works for the Daily (or knows someone who does), let me know. I’d love to hear their experiences! Also, I’m pretty tired right now, so please enjoy this picture of some puppies!
Today, I’m going to describe how to… write a how to article. I know, it’s ironic, but bear with me. How to write the how to might be helpful for all of us to see the origin of the content when we google “how to cook an over easy egg perfectly” (thanks Alton Brown!) or “how to fix the thing that is broken.” I love how-to articles, because it’s like calling my mom but in detailed, written form!
After talking with Julie, I realized that I needed to narrow my focus for this experiment. In Experiments 1 and 2, I focused on overarching ways activist work could be done and how it could help. We realized that I needed to focus on my own personal experiences to make Experiment 3 something that had meaning to me and could develop into a final project.
I am a facilitator for Feminist Forum, a one-credit course in the RC that is very activist based with the topics we discuss. I was very much thrown into being a facilitator of Feminist Forum, with a short online course my only training. This led to some confusion and growing pains among me and my co-facilitators in the beginning. Now, having a year under my belt as a facilitator, I want to write a how-to article to help future facilitators of Feminist Forum (and other forums) be the best they can be. This can include simple aspects like leading a discussion, and more complex ones like dealing with students who dominate the discussion.
Select Your Topic – Pick a topic that interests you and write a rough draft!
Address Your Audience’s Needs – Decide who your article is intended for – is your rough draft appropriate for this audience?
Research – Look for facts, statistics, definitions, and quotes that can make your article more authoritative
Tighten Your Draft – Write another draft with the information you’ve found in steps 2 and 3
Make It Specific – Make sure your article stays to the point and includes thorough information
Read, Revise, Repeat – Keep revising, get advice from other people, and try to make your article the best it can be!
WikiHow is a website that has an array of different how-to articles on what seems to be every subject imaginable. The front page of WikiHow gives a multitude of examples of how-to articles, with everything from How to Boil Carrots, to How to Create an iOS Developer Account, to the Halloween-themed How to Hide Candy in Your Room. This shows the breadth of the topics how-to articles can cover. How-to articles also have room for fun and creativity! Related to my topic, NBC had an article titled How to be an Activist for Causes You Believe In. My how-to article will probably be more nuanced than these examples, but these provide a good starting point for me to see the basics of how-to articles. I’m excited to write this!
As our second experiment cycle came to an end, I was initially dumb-founded as to what genre I was going to pick next. I didn’t want to do another article, I already ventured out into the (sometimes) scary world of poems, and I knew I didn’t want to necessarily do anything that was necessarily “academic” or research based. The topic of my origin piece is something extremely personal, and I was honestly at a loss for as to how I would turn this into yet another fitting genre. After going back and rethinking what was most important from my origin piece, it hit me. What would I have wished that I had at the time that I had written these short diary-like notes in my phone? Advice, intuition, and thoughts from someone who had been through it all before.
What better way to do this than to do an open letter to my past self from my current self.
By definition, an open letter is “a letter that is intended to be read by a wide audience, or a letter intended for an individual, but that is nonetheless widely distributed intentionally.” Some open letters are addressed to a specific person but meant to be read by a larger audience, while some letters are undressed but also meant to be read by a lot of people. One of the most important conventions of an open letter is that they all have a purpose. They are written with a goal in mind, and they attempt to make that goal clear throughout that letter.
One famous example of an open letter is the “Letter From Birmingham Jail” written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King was arrested and put in jail after engaging in a non violent protest, so his letter was a response to the statement by Alabama clergyman that said these anti segregation demonstrations must stop and be dealt with in court. This letter was widely published, and it eventually became an important text for the American Civil Rights movement. You can read more about the power of this letter here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_from_Birmingham_Jail
I’m honestly excited to explore doing an open letter as my next genre. I think it will be a unique way for me to reflect on my past experiences and what I think about my these past experiences now that I might “know better.”
For my next experiment, I want to try writing a creative nonfiction piece where I will be able to bring in personal stories about sexual assault and account for the real memory and event that happened to Dr. Blasey Ford.
Lee Gutkind defines creative nonfiction as “true stories well told.” This simple definition fits perfectly into my goals for my final experiment. Previously, I have taken a very broad and general position, analyzing images from the hearings and explaining its symbolism. For my third experiment, I want to make the far away hearings, not so broad and far away. I want to tie in what has been happening in the Supreme Court, with the #MeToo movement, and with my personal relationships. While mine might be different and not “as bad,” every form of assault is horrible, and every woman should be able to tell her story and be believed for the problem to come to an end.
Through a creative nonfiction piece I’ll be able to engage my readers through a storytelling genre but enlighten and teach them as well, as the piece is nonfiction; The goal of creative nonfiction is to “make nonﬁction stories read like ﬁction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”
I’m leaning toward public creative nonfiction, because I believe my topic, while relating personally to me, also encapsulates a more universal topic of sexual assault in the United States.
Skimming through some examples of creative nonfiction, I saw they were split up with dialogue. The dialogue puts the nonfiction in creative nonfiction. Some include images throughout the essay, some just include images at the beginning. There are many vivid details and describers that draw the reader in and prove to the reader that this is in fact a true story. The stories reel you in and make you attached to the characters through emotion.
For my third genre, I will be exploring the possibilities of news articles. The goal of most news articles is to tell a specific story that recently occurred. If written well, even the articles that only contain facts can be very engaging because of the significance of the topic the author is writing about. Some news articles that go more into depth on the topic and are written with a certain point of view/angle of the story are called news feature articles. Those typically focus on a specific person or event, rather than something very broad.
However, all news articles have the same components. The article must have a strong title that indicates what the topic or issue at hand, while also being eye-catching. Right underneath is the author’s name and a couple words about who he/she is to provide credibility, called the byline. Then, the first paragraph contains the lead. The lead is important for giving a detailed preview of the entire story. It includes the basic facts and explains why the piece is noteworthy, which determines whether or not the reader will continue reading. Next is the body, which contains the story or explanation using research. This portion often contains interviews, quotes from researchers, or comments from community people directly affected that would represent the public’s perception. The article is concluded by wrapping up the opening statement or providing a future direction to the story.
News articles are written with a similar style too. They contain short paragraphs, maybe 2-3 sentences, without topic sentences or closing sentences like in an essay. Depending on the medium, they are often formatted into columns. The story is told in an active voice, beginning with the most important facts or in chronological order. All language is very simple and straightforward; there are no metaphors or too technical terms. Background information is always included because of the assumption that no one reading is an expert.
This is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that provides new updates on the Mendocino Complex Fire. It contains a lot of the typical features of a news article, such as an intriguing title and attention-grabbing facts. Here is an article from The New York Times that is a great example of a news feature article. With its longer length and upbeat tone, it tells a story about Jonathan Kos-Read.
This genre is appealing because I would be able to provide an overview about the current situation with the California wildfires, while still including firsthand experiences or stories. For example, with a news feature article, I could spotlight someone who personally experienced one of the fires. Quotes from someone knowledgeable in environmentalism could also be useful. Hopefully, these outside sources are what make the news article more unique and interesting.
A nonfiction & fiction collection of short stories combines multiple genres at once. Although this approach to a story allows for a very detailed plot, the mixture of both nonfiction and fiction may disrupt the tone and flow of the story. It is crucial to be able to balance the nonfiction and fiction aspects fluidly to create a story that naturally flows whilst communicating plots points that are necessary to the story’s growth. Likewise, a collection of short stories creates a fluid interaction between papers, though it is still important that you accentuate each paper’ unique strengths. As with any genre, especially this one which is comprised of so many moving parts, there are certain expectations to improve your rate of success.
Considering that most people do not have the patience or interest to want to begin reading your story, it is vital to attract and maintain your reader’s attention at every stopping point of the reading journey. Below are guidelines I have created for writing within this genre:
Quality over quantity. Focus on developing a single or few characters versus introducing many characters. Because the objective of a short story is to communicate a compelling story given limited space, it is important that the characters that are present in the piece are fleshed out enough so that the reader actually knows who they are; the reader should not be trying to learn about a plethora of characters within the span of a short story, which would derail the focus.
One story at a time. Don’t try to paint an entire timeline of your life. A short story revolves more around one event and the effects & implications that instance has had on your life. Like the previous guideline, by limiting the amount of space to write, this allows you to narrow your focus on expanding a high-quality story that reader will be able to fully understand.
Power as a whole, yet independence as an individual. Each story should be fully independent. The reader should not be forced to read another short story to reasonably understand the plot of any story in the collection. However, by combining all the stories together, the grouped collection of these stories should improve the readers’ experience as connections are being created between each story to enhance the plots’ contexts.
Imagery is your best friend—and only friend. With little space to elaborate or describe anything, visuals allow the reader to consume a large amount of information at once whilst creating an image of the situation that directly matches the writer’s intentions. Vivid and clear descriptions prevent substantial confusion that implicit statements or metaphors may otherwise cause, which is especially important in the limited amount of space a short story has.
Take advantage of fiction. Keep in mind that the objective of the short story may sometimes require fictitious content to convey the main idea. Moderate how much of the text is fiction and nonfiction (if any) and focus on the primary goal of the story. If your objective would be more strongly emphasised if a specific moment occurred, craft that moment and interweave it with the nonfiction aspects to create an interesting mix of truth & fiction. The fiction should help to enhance the nonfiction portions of the story, and vice versa.
Be proactive in providing information. Share valuable information necessary for the progression & development of the story as early as possible. Provide the information in a succinct manner, but do not leave out details that may ultimately prove to be important later in the plot. Prevent the readers from having to step out of the plot to educate themselves to then understand the plot itself. This makes the reader lose focus.
Check out some of these examples of great collections of either short stories, vignettes, or essays; these may not necessarily align exactly with this genre, however many seem to share similar features:
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 2015.
After further research, the vignette style that Cisneros uses in her book effectively gives a vicarious look into important moments in her life without going into extensive detail. This brevity is fundamental as it zooms in and goes straight to the peak of the story and the takeaway message & purpose of the story without elaborating on details that the reader may find distracting or uninteresting to learn. Cisneros uses an interesting tactic of including stories that are often from different perspectives as well, allowing for implicit character development through seeing something in that character’s lens occasionally. This is an interesting tool to provide the same story twice, but under different perspectives, which can create two entirely different plots.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “ESSAYS.” Edited by Edna H. L. Turpin, The Project Gutenberg EBook of Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson., 15 Mar. 2012, www.gutenberg.org/files/16643/16643-h/16643-h.htm.
When Emerson’s essays are all combined together as a single book, this creates an interesting connection between all of them despite that they each focus on different topics. Whilst crafting a collection of short stories, seeing the organisation of this collection of Emerson’s essay is helpful to know when chaining stories together to create a fluid plot. Another important takeaway from this text is that each story—or in Emerson’s case, each essay—should be independent of each other, such that the reader should be able to fully understand the plot in one piece without having to read another. Essentially, by grouping the papers together, this should enhance the overall reading experience by offering a relational insight via comparing each piece under varied lens, independently.
Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street.” Melville, Herman. 1853. Bartleby, the Scrivener, www.bartleby.com/129/.
This single short story by Melville about a lawyer working at Wall Street and his interactions with a newly hired and defiant clerk shows the tremendous detail that goes into developing each character, such as the lengthy paragraph that introduces Bartleby’s three employees. This allows the reader to quickly visualise and consume information necessary to understand the plot later in the text. The detailed descriptions of seemingly unnecessary features of each character and the setting allow the reader to be able to paint a very vivid image of the scene, activating the reader’s imagination to match the meanings that the writer is trying to convey, thus showing the value of providing detailed visual descriptions to make up for the brevity of the text.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden.” The Walden Woods Project, The Walden Woods Project, www.walden.org/work/walden/.
Although Thoreau’s Walden is a memoir regarding a secluded trek to nature, his work strongly connects with short stories collections because of the book’s chronological organisation that mimics many collections of short stories’ progression (and especially the progression of vignettes). As Thoreau’s time in the woods increases with each passing chapter, the plot grows. The weather around Thoreau is constantly shifting, allowing Thoreau to progress his story based on the changing seasons, thus creating a naturally flowing text. Thoreau’s observations of both the self and the environment are described in an effective manner through descriptive details and imagery, allowing the reader to conveniently visualise the setting and almost vicariously live his experiences. This vicarious living is crucial to creating a compelling plot that the reader can connect with.
As each day passes, formal letters are becoming more and more obsolete. The process of writing a letter, mailing it out to someone, and waiting for a response isn’t a common practice anymore now that social media exists. Open letters, on the other hand, have a much more relevant place in modern day society. They are different than a regular letter because they are meant to address a broader audience. While open letters could be addressed to a specific person, there is always an underlying message that the author wants a wider audience to understand. My relationship with open letters started freshman year in the typical English 125 classroom. For one assignment, we had to write an open letter to the author of one of the essays we had read for class. It was framed as being a wake-up call to the broader society, addressing some real-world problem and brainstorming solutions for said problem. My final product, however, looked more like a argumentative essay I would have written for AP English Language class in high school. It didn’t have a broad scope and it didn’t call anyone to action either. That’s what made me want to revisit the open format- I wanted to write something that would actually accomplish something outside the classroom.
Open letters are a bit more complicated to write than regular letters. For one thing, they’re supposed to be concise and to the point. According to several open letter authors, conviction is a key component of this genre since most people don’t have the time or patience to read through some super long letter about some problem that might not even relate to them. It’s also important to have a general understanding of your audience so that you don’t come off as aggressive or condescending. You need to find a common ground where people take you seriously enough to actually do something about the problem you’re describing. With my origin piece focusing heavily on mental health, I think that the open letter format would help me frame the issue in a way that makes people want to take action and end stigma.
I am opting to explore feature articles for my second experiment! I have always enjoyed reading feature articles in newspapers and magazines. I am drawn to this type of journalism because it provides more in-depth looks at relevant topics and makes the news or pop culture feel more relatable somehow. I also like how diverse the genre is. You can read a feature article in a magazine like Cosmopolitan or in a distinguished newspaper like The New York Times. Feature articles can also range in content. For example, an investigative reporting piece, a profile of a celebrity, and an article about an emerging trend can all be considered feature articles, depending on their conventions.
As for convention, feature articles differ from traditional news articles written solely to inform. They often include a more human aspect to them and are longer than news articles. The purpose of a feature article can be to inform or entertain, or both. They typically focus on a specific topic or individual, and place what they are talking about in context. The subject of a feature article should be timely, meaning the author should have a reason for writing the piece at that given time. Speaking of the author, they can write in either first or third person point of view, depending on what is most appropriate for the situation. Feature articles generally start with a lede, which is a hook that engages the reader right from the start. This can come in the form of a quote, a statistic, imagery, etc. Following the lede is the nut graph, which provides some background information or context introducing the topic that will be discussed in the article. The piece should end with a kicker, which wraps up the article and may give the reader some food for thought. Other features of a feature article include:
An interesting title
Bylines that make the reader interested
Interviews with a subject or subjects
Pull quotes from these interviews
Photographs of subjects or scenes relevant to the article
For more information about the conventions of a feature article, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about different types of feature stories, check out this article.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Spotlight, the journalists are investigative reporters that write feature articles. Their purpose is to inform readers of shady things that are going on in and around Boston. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is about reporters at The Boston Globe who uncover the rampant sexual abuse committed by priests in the Catholic Church and the cover-up by the Church. It’s on Netflix!
Here is an example of a profile article about a gymnast abused by Larry Nassar that was published in Cosmopolitan. Here is another from The New York Times, about ISIS. Here is yet another from The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about bribery and Walmart.
P.S. Sorry for the lack of original pictures in this post. My computer is not cooperating.
For my second experiment, I decided to do a photo essay. I’ve never really explored this medium before so I’m really excited about trying it.
I also think this will be a really cool way to reimagine my origin piece (my college essay). My college essay focused on me and my first experiment–an op-ed–still included quite a bit of my own experience but also aimed to more broadly speak to the college essay itself–what it is, if they are truly representative of individuals, what they should be, etc. I think a photo essay will be a great medium to get to explore the representativeness of individuals, both at the time they were written (approximately the end of junior/beginning of senior year of high school) and now. I craft my photo essay similarly to Humans of New York, which is a blog based in New York City which features photos of individuals with quoted brief stories about themselves and their thoughts and experiences. I plan to ask some of my friends and peers how they feel their college essay represented them when they wrote it, what they aimed to convey, and how true their college essay is now, approximately three years later. This testament will be paired with a picture of the individual which well represents their personality and/or the topic of their essay.
Photo essays are a genre that allows for quite a bit of flexibility and creativity. Generally, the point is for a series of photos to tell a story, often accompanied by text–but the photos are the core of the project, as the primary point that people will see, think about, and imagine a story for before even reading the text–which is why capturing pictures that represent my friends and their experiences is so important. Humans of New York is a bit different than a typical photo essay, but I think it’s the best format for me for this project.
Some important elements of a photo essay are:
the story that is conveyed through the pictures alone
a variety of photos that keep viewers interested and engaged
ordering the photos in such a way that they effectively create a narrative and follow a logical sequence
being both informational and emotional
including captions that provide descriptions to ensure the viewer understands the story you’re telling
Ultimately, the most powerful parts of photo essays are the emotional and representative aspects, creating a strong narrative. A lot of people have really interesting stories and college essay topics, and I am excited to attempt to capture them through my photo essay.
I have chosen to use a photo essay for my second experiment. Photo essays convey a story or a topic through visual means, with minimal text. Ideally, a photo essay should use images to evoke the same, or a more powerful, response than a traditional written essay. A specific topic or theme is important for a photo essay so that it can evoke meaning and emotion in the viewer. According to Collective Lens, there are two types of photo essays, narrative and thematic. Narrative photo essays tell a story, while thematic photo essays all center around an idea or theme. I expect my photo essay to be more thematic, as I plan to include photos that I take or that I edit surrounding activist work.
The organization of a photo essay is also important. There should be one or two lead photos that introduce the topic of the photo essay to the viewer. Then, the creator of the photo essay should use discretion of what other types of photos to use throughout, but it is usually suggested that a variety of different types of shots should be utilized throughout the essay. There also should be an impactful closing shot that brings the photo essay together.
I became interested in doing a photo essay after seeing the emotional impact that visual images surrounding activism can have on people. For example, visual images from women’s marches across the world in January 2017 seemed to capture the spirit of the movement. I’m intrigued to make my own impact with photos surrounding activism. I also have always been interested in photography but have not had the time to study it, so this would be a great opportunity to look at one use of photography.
This photo essay is impactful to me because it creates a narrative through showing the everyday experiences of various people. It is very thematic, and also includes text to further explore the experiences of people in Addis Ababa in the past. I enjoyed this photo essay because I did not have prior knowledge of the lives of Ethiopian people in the past, but I feel as if this photo essay educated me and evoked more emotion than words could. I am very excited to see where my photo essay takes me!