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How to compose a narrative on deadline

Jack Hart, senior editor for writing and staff development at The Oregonian, says 15-30 column inches (400 – 900 words) is a reasonable length for a narrative that can be produced in a day. The idea is to follow a character through a complication and show how they resolve it. This can be done in a five-part narrative arc:

  1. Exposition – in which the character and the complication are introduced.
  2. Rising action – it’s the bulk of the piece, and it shows the obstacles on the way to solving the complication.
  3. Point of insight – the character has a revelation.
  4. Resolution – the complication is resolved.
  5. Denouement – tying up loose ends.

This guide, like many of the others in API’s Journalism Essentials section, is largely based on the research and teachings of the Committee of Concerned Journalists — a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics that for 10 years facilitated a discussion among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it, and why it was important. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training director and API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel formerly co-chaired the committee.

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