Long-form narrative workshop ignites conversation

Three of the five stories cherubs read for instructor Charles Whitaker's workshop. Photo by Sammi Handler

Three stories cherubs read for instructor Charles Whitaker’s workshop. Photo by Sammi Handler.

Instructor Charles Whitaker offered a long-form narrative workshop for cherubs interested in feature or magazine writing to learn about and discuss award-winning stories.

“I had always been interested in long-form feature pieces, and it’s something that I don’t get the chance to experiment with a lot at home because everything is a news story on deadline,” Becky Hoving said.

Students read five pieces in preparation for the class. Some were award-winning, and others Whitaker included to show variety.

The class examined the structure and the story of each piece. Whitaker also talked about where the subjects and writers are now.

Hoving said she enjoyed the environment of the class because, as opposed to classes in high school, everyone chose to participate.

“You could tell that everyone there was very interested and passionate about either long-form narrative because they have experience with it or learning more about it,” Hoving said. “Everybody was engaged and comfortable enough to share their opinions and to engage in conversation.”

This was the first year Whitaker included “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” by Caleb Hannan, one of Whitaker’s former students. The piece is a first-person account on Hannan’s research about Dr. V, who invented a supposedly “scientifically superior” golf club. It drew criticism in 2014 for Hannan and his editor’s decision to publish the story even though Dr. V, who was transgender, committed suicide.

Rian Ratnavale said the story taught him to be aware of consequences his articles may have.

“When I hopefully write longer pieces when I get back to my paper at home, I will use Charles’ example of that story and be wary how I structure my features articles,” Ratnavale said.

Whitaker has taught this workshop for the past five years for cherubs who are “writers at heart,” he said.

Whitaker said it “can be really inspiring to people who long to be great writers, to see how that kind of language that is often associated with creative writing can also be employed in journalism.”