Wick Communications

‘The nun went first’

In Writing techniques on 2 May 2013 at 4:54 pm

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 4.44.53 PM

Washington Post Lifestyles writer Dan Zak crafted an absolute masterpiece narrative following the intrusion of three peace activists into a top-secret place where the United States stockpiles the weapons-grade uranium that is the most potent thing man has ever known.

It is simply an amazing story and, though it’s long, it’s well worth your time.

Three things I want to point out:

  • Web layout: I don’t know how the story was presented in print, whether all at once or in parts. But it has a gorgeous Web interface. Notice the space between lines (leading, were we talking about print). It gives the eye room to breathe. Blocks of small, dense type would have turned me off this story.

Notice, too, the way it is illustrated. I like the re-enacted illustrations and how they work with the real photos of the main players.

  • The outline: It is clear Zak spent some time organizing his thoughts on this one and didn’t just dive in writing. In fact, the outline is actually included on the left of the layout – from Mission to Fission. That outline is key to why this story works. So many long feature narratives just miss the mark because they meander or include details that aren’t telling and get in the way of the story.
  • It’s timely. This comes in advance of the trial next week. Frankly, I had missed this whole episode and this story tells me something I need to know now. I don’t know how long it took Zak, photographers and illustrators to put this together, but it wasn’t a rush job.

If you have time for nothing else, please read the opening paragraph and the first short section. See if you aren’t hooked. This is that place where terrific reporting and breathtaking writing collide.

— Clay


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