Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Next BFB Homework Assignment: Profiles and Portraits

Are you signed up for the BFB newsletter? If not, you can sign up in that box in the right sidebar, just below the ad --->

In each newsletter, I provide a prompt for a blog post. (I call these "homework assignments," although they're obviously not mandatory and not graded :-P) If you feel like participating, you can put up a post in the designated time frame, send me an email telling me where to find it, and I'll feature the posts in the next newsletter and on the website. Writing to a prompt is often a good way of practicing writing skills and getting out of your comfort zone. If you feel like tweeting about any of these "homework assignments", please use the hashtag #BFBhw.

You can read about the previous assignment here. As you can see, there wasn't much of a response, which is why I'm giving you a lot of time to work on the next one! Also, I'll be traveling at the end of the month, so the next newsletter will be delayed anyways. Let's say this assignment is due May 1. It was announced in the last newsletter with an earlier due date, but you can ignore that.

The assignment: Profiles!

Pick somebody in the food industry - the chef at your favorite restaurant, your neighborhood fishmonger, a maker of artisan cheeses, anyone who does something with food - and interview him or her. In-person interviews are always best, but if you can only catch your person by phone or email, that could work too. You can format your post as a transcript of the interview, but better yet, challenge yourself to work it into an essay-style profile. Bonus points for an intriguing photograph of your subject. If you have time, try to get a quick interview with other people who know your subject. Quotes from other sources will enhance your story.

Check out this profile of Alice Waters for inspiration. Note the successful use of first person - the interviewer puts himself in the story, and it works. In journalism, this doesn't always work, but in blogging, it's generally encouraged. Other details that make this profile engaging: present tense descriptions, often humorous ("And now, here she is, tears welling, voice tremulous, apparently about to start sobbing into her Blue Heron Farm little gem lettuce salad. Which is a shame, because it's rather a nice salad.") Historical context (what has she done?) and present context (what is she doing now?). Plenty of quotes.

Details are important; write down everything you see. Numbers, brand names, colors. Most of it will never be used in the story, but a few well-placed details will really bring it to the next level. (Refer back to the above quote. Doesn't "Blue Heron Farm little gem lettuce salad" make it so much more interesting than if the writer had just said "salad"?)

If you're going to include a portrait of your subject, take a look at this informative tutorial on environmental portraits. ("Environmental" isn't a nature word here; it refers to portraits taken in the subject's living or working environment.)

If you feel so inclined, please include a note at the top or bottom of your post mentioning that this is a "homework assignment."

You have until May 1...start writing! And please leave a comment here if you have any other examples of great profiles written about people in the food industry, good environmental portraits, etc.

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