JEM 499 – Writing an interesting chapter

Your topic/subject:

What’s interesting about your topic? (make a list)

What struck you as compelling?

What surprised you about it?

What was unusual about it?

What’s the thing you would tell your friends, relatives about it?

What’s important? What’s the BIG problem that needs to be solved?

That’s where you should start. Try to isolate one or two aspects (or three) of your topic and explore those things in depth.


What do you need to write?

— basic facts – who, what, when, where

— people – what’s the interesting story that someone has to tell

— anecdotes (what stories demonstrate this topic) Nothing makes people want to read like a compelling story. You want to make readers ask, “What’s next?”

— details about process, place

But be selective. You don’t have to tell everything you know.

— comparison – what makes this topic/subject different?

— the interesting detail (like the decisive moment in photography)

— engage the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste

In your narrative, spend very little time explaining the organization (no more than a paragraph or two). That can be left for a sidebar if necessary.


Before writing, do your reporting:

— Go there, look around, notice the setting.

— Talk to people, many people – multiple sources are a must

— Ask questions; don’t just listen to what the people in charge want you to hear

— Verify what you have been told

— Ask your sources why this topic/subject is interesting

— Ask for material — photos, videos, diagram, maps, charts; and ask for permission to use this material, saying that you will certainly give credit


Do NOT plagiarize.

Do NOT make anything up. (This is journalism!)

Do NOT use material of any kind (including your videos) that you do not have permission to use.


Remember the things you learned in JEM 200/230, not about story structure but about writing

— simple words, simple sentences

— short paragraphs (I can’t emphasize this enough.)

— straightforward, unadorned writing

— AP style

— verbs

— attribution and sources

— audience, audience, audience – above all

— what else do you remember from JEM 200/230?


Edit, edit, edit

— edit so that it is technically perfect

— edit so that it is coherent

— edit so that it is interesting

— rewrite

— think about your audience


Rules of writing

Write so that people will want to read the next paragraph.

Leave out the parts people won’t read. (Elmore Leonard)



— One person should write the draft (more than one if you are writing in sections)

— Everyone should be able to see the draft, comment on it, take responsibility for it.

— Don’t spare anyone’s feelings about the writing. (I won’t. And I will blame everyone.)

— Edit and rewrite


First deadline

Back up all files in another location

— Semi-final draft of the main text (1,000 – 1,200 words, at most)

— At least one, if not all, of your videos (2 – 3 minutes, at most)

— Photos, individual and galleries (with cutline information)

— Audio introduction to chapter (no more than 90 seconds)

— chapter title – a few words that capture the essence of your topic

— Info for the team page: 50 words or so about each individual; why the team name; any short, general statement from the team


And you shouldd also be thinking about

— quizzes, review questions, things to engage the reader

— glossary terms

— sidebars

— interactive photos, timelines

— presentations (PowerPoint, which we can convert to Keynote)

— Someone from your team should look at

Who is going to put together the iBooks Author chapter?


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