Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Story Evolution: "Active Shooter"

David Sedaris

Lesson time 13:28 min

Starting with a diary entry, David reads multiple drafts of the beginning of what eventually became his New Yorker essay “Active Shooter.”

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Topics include: Give the Audience a Release


[LIGHT JAZZY MUSIC] - So I thought what I would do is try to take you through my process for writing an essay. It begins with a notebook-- for me, a notebook that was very much like this one. And I just write everything down in it, things that are pertinent. And then I take those notes, and I use them to write in my diary. I go on these lecture tours several times a year, and I usually start with four new essays, four or five new essays. And I'll read something out loud, and I'll go back to the room, and I'll rewrite it. And I'll read it the next night, and I'll make notes, and I'll rewrite it. Read it, rewrite it, read it, rewrite it. When the audience laughs, I make notes. And when the audience doesn't laugh, when the audience coughs-- the audience coughing is like they're throwing skulls at you. They're telling you that if this was on the page, they would be skimming now. So this was a diary entry from May 17, 2012. "'You did a pretty good job with that Glock,' Lisa said yesterday afternoon as we walked to her car in the parking lot of ProShots. I'd assume before leaving the house that this would be an open-air-firing range, but instead, it was at a shopping plaza next to a Chinese restaurant. We'd made our appointment a day in advance and arrived to find what looked like a store. Gun safes the size of closets were displayed near the front door, and further back were cases with pistols in them. Smith and Wesson 642, .38 special, $479.99, read the tag next to one of them. Then came the Rossi R352, which was also a .38 special, and was slightly less expensive, $349.77. On a coffee table beside the purses a person could stick a gun in were copies of "Guns & Ammo," "American Hunter," "American Rifleman," and a magazine called "Hand Gunner." There should be a magazine called "Magazine," I thought, noticing that the sign above the restrooms read, 'Restrooms. Practice perfect aim here.' Then there was a bumper sticker beside one of the cash registers. 'ProShots, converting pansies daily.' Near that was a sign extolling the NRA. The place was fairly busy when we arrived. Two of the male customers looked to be in their late 30s. Another wore shorts with boots and a baseball cap. Another one still was drinking a can of Mountain Dew. Our appointment was with a man named Lonnie, a co-owner of the business and a retired Winston-Salem police officer. He might have been in his late 50s, a kind-looking man in a baseball cap that read Blackwater. His glasses had wire frames and were unobtrusive, and he wore a black ProShots t-shirt. There was a classroom in the back of the store, and after greeting us, he led us to a table and asked us to sit down. 'The first thing you need to remember,' he said, placing a pair of pistols before us, 'is that people are stupid. I don't mean you folks personal, but folks in general. So I have a few rules. Number one, always assume that every gun is loaded.'" So that was the beginning of a diar...

About the Instructor

With essays in The New Yorker, bestselling books like Calypso, tours, and readings on NPR, David Sedaris is one of the most recognizable essayists alive. Now he teaches you the art of personal storytelling. Learn how David crafts attention-grabbing openings, satisfying endings, and meaning from the mundane—and how he uses humor to connect with others and process the difficult and sometimes dark aspects of everyday life.

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David Sedaris

NYT–bestselling author David Sedaris teaches you how to turn everyday moments into seriously funny stories that connect with audiences.

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