The title of this piece triggered our mawkishness radar: It signals tragedy; we wondered how such tragedy would be handled. Reading, we thought the piece teeters on the edge of too much.

But it’s also a powerful story, and it imparts important information. Dawson writes in tight, clear sentences with strong pace. He reveals the cause of Coriann’s sudden death in a way that builds suspense. This structure is worth examining. We asked him about his work on the story, his decisions about structure. Here’s what he emailed us:

“During the reporting, I kept lusting after the action of the story, the night they found her. I tend to do that. But it was just the engine of the narrative. The bigger story soon became the parents’ (and the community’s) basic ignorance of this game. At first, everyone thought suicide. When parents, cops (anyone for that matter) learn that this game is out there, they’re in disbelief. For CoriAnn’s parents, this realization only compounded their already overwhelming sense of helplessness. That’s how I wanted the story to unfold: exactly how the parents experienced it.

“In terms of structure, I wanted to set the action in motion at a quick pace, then stop the story. Editors usually hate that, but it’s a great device from fiction. The key is making it flow. I stopped the action to build tension and build the characters: the parents, the family vibe and CoriAnn. I also wanted to create a stark contrast to suicide. Then I returned to the action, the engine of the story. Then I stopped again, showed the national trend. Then I localized and ended with action, which was the McDevitts’ effort to cope.”

Read “Love You, Miss You, Drive Safe… Peace, CoriAnn,” by Mike Dawson

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