Always a Reader Out There

 From Travis Lang, Literary Journalism Editor


Talking to people is scary—hearing what they have to say is even scarier. Yet this is the life of a literary journalist, and their stories help unravel mysteries and entertain the bored soul. As an IUE sports broadcaster and radio journalist, I understand these concepts, and I want to see how others put their skills into action. Here are a few things I’m looking for in literary journalism submissions.

  1. Ask questions. Lots of them. Have you ever heard the phrase “there are no stupid questions?” That is actually true in this case. Questions are the tools that uncover information and lead the story. Don’t be afraid to ask not only the questions specific to your topic, but also ask the questions that get to the heart of a person. Chances are that you’ll learn more than in a standard linear fashion of “who, what, when, where, why.” Feel free to think outside of your notes and expand. Also, don’t feel like every question needs an answer.
  2. Research. Research. Since this is a nonfiction genre, research is one of the most important components. Remember that you should always factcheck your interviews. Was that person telling the truth? Is there more context to the situation? Does stated information match? Also, don’t use Wikipedia. I love it since I’m a lazy student, but it throws your credibility out the window.
  3. Be efficient but be true. Spoken word doesn’t always translate well to writing. This is where it’s okay to help edit the interviews you conduct. However, I stress that you should try and keep it as close to the interviewee’s words as possible since they are your primary source.
  4. Place your reader in the story. This is how the reader connects with your story. Make them feel like they are privy to all points of view, witnessing everything play out as they uncover what you found. Sometimes third-person perspectives can help with this, and don’t be afraid to incorporate some solid scene-setting techniques in order to get the feeling right.
  5. Tell a story no one has heard. The most exciting part of my job is getting to read and edit the submissions. Tell me a story that stands out above the rest. Use language that no one has used before. Tell me about time periods, foreign nations, encaptivating cultures, and outstanding technologies. Show me love, sadness, anger, and joy. Above all, give us your perspective on what it means to be human.

I’m excited for what this spring issue may bring. Keep in mind that there will also be a brief interview with the IU East Fall 2020 Visiting Novelist Jessica Anthony included in there, too. With that, I wish you luck on submissions and leave you with this quote by Chilean writer Isabel Allende: “From journalism I learned to write under pressure, to work with deadlines, to have limited space and time, to conduct and interview, to find information, to research, and above all, to use language as efficiently as possible and to remember always that there is a reader out there.”

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