Mayborn Week continues: Skip Hollandsworth, a veteran writer for Texas Monthly, specializes in the kind of true-crime narrative yarns that are always bigger in Texas. In 2010, Hollandsworth won a National Magazine Award for “Still Life,” his spare, lyrical story about the life of a man who was paralyzed in a high school football game in 1973 and then cared for by his mother for the next 35 years. Several of his stories have been optioned for film, and he has worked with director Richard Linklater to co-write the screenplay for Bernie, the 2011 feature-length comedy starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. In the final Mayborn keynote address — which you’ll find here on Storyboard tomorrow — Hollandsworth offered as much performance art as craft lesson. Some of his tips:

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  • Get to the scene of a story as quickly as possible and absorb the story, its characters and their dialogue in the local vernacular, at ground level.
  • Perfect a reportorial game face that shows genuine concern and interest and avoids condescension or judgment.
  • Avoid even the appearance of ridiculing story subjects — even funny ones — in person or in print.
  • Understand how ambiguity can engage readers. Ending a story as a trial begins can invest readers in trying to figure out for themselves whether characters are culpable or innocent, good guys or bad.
  • Employ well-chosen scenes and unfold action — it engages readers in ways that expository or analytic writing can’t.
  • Ask oneself the kinds of questions about structure and characterization that movie production veterans’ questions ask. How does an opening setup hint in ways that will lead to a payoff for the reader? What is the payoff? What does it reveal about a character’s true qualities?

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