A metaphor for the world: William Langewiesche, John Vaillant and looking for the story in long-form

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Asia Pacific Media Educator, ISSN: 1326-365X, Vol: 1, Issue: 18, Page: 58-71

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Reynolds, B.
article description
This is a study of two writers and their methods, with a discussion of what makes their superior magazine features so compelling. In long-form narrative, the story is never simply about the story—it is a metaphor for something much larger. The three-part series, “Unbuilding the World Trade Center” (2002 The Atlantic Monthly), is straightforward. In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on Manhattan, a group of men remove debris from the former World Trade Center site. But it is really about how a democratic society forms out of the ruins, with Langewiesche’s story mirroring America’s shifting global stature. John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce (2005) is a profile of an eco-radical who cut down a one-in-a-billion giant Sitka spruce to protest against a logging company’s clear-cut practices in British Columbia. Yet it is really a story about how, when it comes to humanity’s relationship with the planet, we cannot see the forest for the trees. For authors of longform, discovering what the story is really about is the key to compelling long-form narratives.