This six-part narrative is now a classic, instructive for its solid structure, rounded characters and close reporting.
Notice the ways that Zuckoff weaves medical background and the details of Naia’s case into the narrative. He also reports finely, choosing pertinent details, ones that heighten the emotional valence of the piece. Note this early example: Zuckoff describes the contents of the cooler that Tierney and Greg will take on their vacation. Later it sits forgotten, spoiling, as they face a wrenching decision.
If you’re interested in structuring long features and narratives, this piece is worth parsing: Each section is a mini-narrative, with beginning, middle and end. Each section also has a clear purpose: in the first, for example, it’s to introduce the primary narrative complication, to introduce the primary characters and to lend heft to the tale by tying the particular story to larger issues.
We appreciate Zuckoff’s skill in conveying the internal lives of his characters: their faith, values, fears. He weaves their quotes, their comments to him, into the story; these quotes function as thoughts, a narrative of their internal world. It’s this reporting on their internal worlds, it seems to us, that makes the piece worthwhile. The story makes real and concrete, as many readers pointed out, a more abstract medical and ethical issue.
According to the Globe, the series prompted more than 1200 emails, letters and phone calls from readers. Ninety five percent, the editors say, were positive. Among those was this comment: “I have never been so touched by a series of newspaper articles.” Zuckoff went on to write a book about Naia and her family, under the same title.
Read “Choosing Naia,” by Mitchell Zuckoff