In 2006, Globe columnist Kevin Cullen came to my NU class to talk about his narrative series, “Rakan’s War.” The stories followed the journey of an Iraqi boy who was injured after US soldier mistakenly opened fire on his family’s car, killing his parents. The series documented Rakan’s journey to Massachusetts General Hospital, his recovery and his return to Iraq.
Kevin wrote the last chapter for today’s paper. Rakan was killed in June when a bomber targeted his house. (See boston.com) The details – except for the jarring reality of the boy’s death -- remain unclear.
Reporters are supposed to keep themselves out of their own stories. But sometimes, it is impossible, especially when writing about kids. The original stories – written in third person -- didn’t talk about how close Kevin and his family got to Rakan. Today’s – written in first person as a column, not a feature -- does. Note the difference in the two forms.
I think the key in writing a series like this is to respect both your emotions and your story. Remember the story is about the subject – not the writer. But, like Kevin, you can use those feelings to give the story heart.
For me, this happened when I chronicled a young woman’s wait for a lung transplant. In this case, I was part of a parallel story. It was the only time I wrote in first person during nearly nine years at the N&O. It was hard on a lot of different levels. (If you’re in my BU class, we’ll be talking about that story when we write profiles.)
So, find a quiet corner and read the entire series. Note the amount of time and observation needed for a story like this. And when you see a kid digging into a bowl of Fruit Loops, remember Rakan.