How can I cover health and not just a disease?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

Dear Coach,

What’s the best way to approach a “disease-of-the-week” story? It seems we’ve been doing a lot lately, and they all sound alike. — Sick of It

Dear Sick,

I’ve been there. The story goes like this: Kid has a terrible problem. Awful symptoms are listed. Experts offer insight. Parents practically live at hospital/special home/research center. Blah blah blah.

The key here is blah blah blah, which is what it sounds like to anyone who isn’t related to the people in the story or afflicted with the same malady.

The remedy? Instead of making the disease the story, look for the bigger idea in the dynamics of the story. What does this person’s struggle say about family? About identity? About happiness, isolation, community, etc.? The list of possibilities goes on forever.

A great example is Partial View: An Alzheimer’s Journal (Southern Methodist University Press, 1998), which chronicles a professor’s progressive loss of his own past — his life story — through Alzheimer’s disease. Accompanying photos were taken by Washington Postphotographer Nancy Andrews. The story is only partly about Alzheimer’s. It’s really about a historian losing his own history. It’s a great story.

Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

Leave a Reply