Week 1: Work Every Angle
Advanced narrative techniques and how to develop strong, “sticky” news pegs that excite editors to commission and audiences to read avidly. Write an essay or feature with a timely angle (750-word max).

Week 2: Place as Character
Delve into the revelatory details and techniques that illuminate a story, raising place from “backdrop” to center stage. Assignment: Write a feature or essay, emphasizing the sensations, history and culture of a destination (1,000-word max).

Steamboat Bay, Alaska (image by Amanda Castleman)Week 3: The Plot Thickens
Using motion, suspense and blocking action to build literary steam … and ideally reveal a deeper message specific to the location. Assignment: Reverse-engineer an outline from a completed article (your choice). Track the arc of ideas and emotions, indicating the lede, nutgraf, exposition, points of revelation, rising action, climax, point of insight, denouement and kicker (500-word max).

Week 4: Look Who’s Talking
Explore how to populate stories with characters, including a defined and intriguing narrator, where applicable. Go beyond interviews and authoritative sources to vignettes that evoke universal themes and rich, specific experiences. Learn how to
gather revelatory quotes and telling dialogue, then smoothly integrate these other voices with your own. Assignment: Write — or revise — a story, employing three original, authoritative sources (1,000-word max).

Week 5: Writer, Sell Thyself
Finesse your pitches and authorial persona. Explore tactics for marketing your brand, pitching major projects and stage-managing your new- and social-media self. Tips on networking, social media, writer’s groups and finding a mentor. Assignment: Submit your online portfolio URL (or materials for one) for review, along with two bio blurbs (one 150 words, another 75). Supply five social-media posts, which adhere to the 80/20 rule while still building your brand and expertise.

Mid-term break
A weeklong breather in the middle of the session.

Week 6: Cuts & Redrafts
Truman Capote once said, “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Fine-tune your self-editing skills from microtrims to mechanical overhauls during revisions. Assignment: submit two pitches (max of 600 words)

Week 7: Recycling For A Better World
Journalists are hired guns, who assume house styles, voices and even moral viewpoints to suit various clients. Learn to chameleon your prose better… and also how to recycle your research and original reporting for multiple markets, increasing your profits. Assignment: Suggest news angles for the five story ideas supplied, as well as five of your own concepts (750-word max).

Samoan waterfall (image by Amanda Castleman)Week 8: Action, Analysis & Reflection
Craft smooth segues and structures that pan from the specific to the universal and on to insights. Assignment: Revise one of your pieces or submit a new one (1,000-word max)

Week 9: The Point of Insight
Evolution of an idea: how a theme, narrator and sense of place transform throughout a tale. How to choose revelatory details and a point of insight aligned with a piece’s theme or quest. Produce 750-word and 250-word versions of the same story. Maintain thematic unity, plot arc and strong ledes, nut grafs and kickers, despite cuts.

Week 10: Voice and Rhythm
The sound of the word on the page has power, as does its placement within a piece, a paragraph and even a phrase. Explore how to write with force and flow, emphasizing the important elements of a story through thoughtful, conscious choices. Assignment: Revise one of your 1,000-word pieces for line-editing OR two pitches OR submit a new 3,000-word-max story for more general comments.

Note: the master class’s final deadline falls during the week of American Thanksgiving this year. If needed, students can have an extra seven days to complete the last project.


The course has no requirements – too difficult with such far-flung students – but the following books make great additions to any dedicated travel writer’s bookshelves.