At a certain age, nothing is more important than fitting in
Rihanna - Diamonds
First Section of Tom Hallman’s four-part, Pulitzer Prize-winning story
The boy knows she’s studying him…
The lede: “Most 14-year-old boys whirl through a room, slapping door jambs and dodging around furniture like imaginary halfbacks. But this boy, a 5-foot, 83-pound waif, has learned never to draw attention to himself.”
Time – “For months Feb. 3, 2000, has been circled on the family calendar that hangs on a kitchen wall.”
Place – “The Northeast Portland house, wood-framed with a wide front porch and fading cream-colored paint, is like thousands of others on Portland’s gentrifying eastside.” [Also hints at character, mood, subject]
Character – focus on main, Hallman paints Sam as cautious
Subject – We are introduced to Sam and his family
Mood – a bit anxious
From Franklin’s Writing for Story: We orient base on five things: time, place, character, subject and mood. Good orientation helps with absorption. Time is most important, b/c a story’s time sequence is different than how we experience it in our daily lives.
Strokes of genius: Hallman places Sam in home setting, then moves to high school, which is an experience most people can connect to from the start.
"He grabs a small foam basketball and throws up an arcing shot that soars across the room and hits a poster tacked to the far wall.
His mother made the poster by assembling family photographs and then laminating them. In the middle is a questionnaire Sam filled out when he was 8. He had been asked to list his three wishes. He wanted $1 million and a dog. On the third line, he doodled three question marks — in those oblivious days of childhood, he couldn’t think of anything else he needed.”
"He must imagine what he looks like. There’s no mirror to examine his face.”
"Sam recognizes a girl who goes to his school, Gregory Heights Middle School. Sam has a secret crush on her."
photo credit: Benjamin Brink and The Oregonian
Reporting tricks: high school, middle school, put yourself in the place and focus w/out too much distraction or nostalgia.
Let the subject speak— like tchotchke example. Notice details, the mirror. Be interested in their life, not just what you think you’re going to report on.
NUT GRAFS AND CODE
- Nut grafs: Tell why the story matters and provide details about emotion and conflict.
- Code: Each story, and each section, has a beginning and end. The first section is anchored by a nut graf or grafs, which tell why the reporter is telling the story. Transitions are key. Spare quotes are used at the beginning of the section, and a full conversation ends it. Spareness pulls in the reader; conversation keeps them on the hook.
“His left ear, purple and misshapen, bulges from the side of his head. His chin juts forward. The main body of tissue, laced with blue veins, swells in a dome that runs from sideburn level to chin. The mass draws his left eye into a slit, warps his mouth into a small, inverted half moon. It looks as though someone has slapped three pounds of wet clay onto his face, where it clings, burying the boy inside.”
“You find yourself instantly drawn into that eye, pulled past the deformity and into the world of a completely normal 14-year-old. You can imagine yourself on the other side of it. You can see yourself in that eye, the child you once were.”
Hallman then zooms out, giving an overview of Northeast Portland with great detail, but also adding heft and sweep to the story.
Hallman ends the section with a quote from Sam, who wonders what we’re all wondering: “Will it kill me?”