How to write a “magazine styled” thingo in ten easy steps

At QTC, in the preaching subject, people are asked to write a magazine styled thing as part of their portfolio. A couple of people have asked me if I have useful tips. One person last year. One person this year.

I said yes. I thought I might put them here. I’ll even check with the lecturer to see if they’re helpful.

Here are ten tips for writing a magazine style article. From the top.

1. Write an effervescent heading that won’t fall flat in just five easy steps. Your heading should be descriptive, but not in a boring way. Pick a fun adjective that is a little jarring, add something that contains a value proposition. Juxtaposition can be fun. So can interesting metaphors or imagery.

2. Write a catchy hook. Make it your lede. Unravel the string so your reader follows it. A lede is your first paragraph. A catchy hook is an angle that makes someone want to read the whole thing. I’d say a magazine article is slightly different to a news article. You don’t want to put fluff in your lede in a news article – you want the who, what, where, when, why, and how – I’d say a magazine article does the heavy lifting in the second paragraph and aims to entertain and continue the headline’s value proposition in the first paragraph. This hook becomes something very much like your “big idea” – it should tie the story together. The conclusion should solve the dilemma or answer the question the hook presents. So should everything else in the article. Each paragraph should be the natural next bit of the story – unless you throw in a really interesting tangent (you can get away with this a little better in magazines than anywhere else – but it has to be really interesting).

3. Find some compelling talent. Stories about people are the best. Stories about people you want to read about are the best of the best. Find something interesting to say about an interesting topic using an interesting person and you’re away. Or find a new way to say something old and boring.

4. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

5. Use “featured” quotes to highlight your main points for readers who scan. 

Featured quotes look something like this.

They stand out from the text around them. Especially if you:

put them in bold italics.

6. Writing a magazine article is a lot like preaching if you are following the ten preaching tips from QTC (that is why this is in the subject) – use interesting words. Don’t be afraid to be a little more expressive than a newspaper writer – but don’t use more words than necessary. Be concise and clear – but interesting. Also – one difference is that print articles, by the nature of having been to a printing press, printed, and distributed, are always talking about past events so are always in the past tense (unlike sermons preached QTC style).

7. Mix up the sentence length a bit. I remember reading a Fairfax Newspapers style guide once upon a time that suggested the average sentence in a newspaper article should be 25 words, because a sentence also functions as a paragraph. This isn’t (always) true in a magazine. A sentence is. Within a paragraph.

8. Read other magazine articles. Find a style you like. Copy it. I love the writing on Grantland.

9. Buy lots of books on writing style and editing. Even if you don’t read them you’ll feel better about yourself. I have eight.

10. Start a blog. Practice writing things that you find interesting. Find your voice, sound like you – figuring out what you like, and how you should write, are important steps – but they’ll leave you sounding like a monotonous automaton if you don’t move to trying to apply those tips in the real world. Try to move to writing about things other people might find interesting to. Get famous. Send me money.

Jesus Week at Uni of Queensland

This week QTC is on mission. We’ve travelled quite a distance. Across one road, and an oval, to the University of Queensland (UQ). QTC is based in a residential college at UQ. We’re helping out with Jesus Week – the on campus mission of student Christian groups Evangelical Students, Student Life, Unichurch, and Uni Impact… you can also check out the Facebook page for details about the week of Jesus based shenanigans.

Jesus Week Title Slide

Today I spoke about Jesus and Judgmentalism – to a room full of people, apparently there were even some visitors, and I met at least one person who reads St. Eutychus, who I’d never met before. That’s always fun.

There’ll be a podcast up soon – but be warned, the audio failed on the real run, and this is me reading it out, pretty much as fast as I could, in a semi-empty room where other people down the other end were talking about other things. So it’s not really representative of what went down – people did laugh at my jokes. They were very kind.

If you’re at UQ – come along to the other talks – especially the ones on Thursday, because I’ll definitely be at both of them, and they’re good… we’ll also be doing stacks talking to people around the campus about who they think Jesus is. So if you’re the praying type – it’d be good to keep this week in your prayers.

I love that the week is all about Jesus – because he really is what counts.

11 Exciting things (studying at) Queensland Theological College has taught me

There’s something nice about looking back over your old essays and realising that you’ve developed – for me this is true both in terms of my writing, and my thinking.

In a haze of essay induced insomnia the other night I started writing a list of things that College has made me more sure of, or taught me, that I think will be useful for the rest of my life.

1. The gospel is the lordship of Jesus – This means it first functions corporately, and individual salvation, where Jesus deals with sin, is a result. This effects the way I articulate the gospel. It’s not about me. Or you. It’s about him. I was convinced of this in first year, partly from a “word study” – which is a pretty poor basis for making decisions by itself, but partly because it’s a really cohesive summary of both the Old Testament expectations of a coming king, and the New Testament presentation of Jesus. Individualism is a relatively new animal. The word study – the Greek word we translate as gospel was already used in Roman culture as the word for when a herald announced a new king.

2. The Gospel should be proclaimed with wisdom, grace, winsomeness, clarity – and this means understanding the world around you. – What I love about the wisdom literature, Paul, Augustine, and Luther, is that they provide a model for engaging with the best thinking the world has to offer – and using it, or rejecting it – to proclaim Jesus. They also provide a model for using the best methods available to communicate.

3. Biblical Theology as the key for holding the Bible together and understanding anything – spending time reading German scholars who are either deists, or functional atheists, who bring this presupposition to the Biblical text and emphasise its humanity (which is an important aspect) over its divinity (which is the most important aspect) is depressing. The Bible makes the most sense if you allow for some divinely inspired intertextuality between the 66 books that were put together in our one book. Biblical theology makes doctrine possible.

4. The fundamental hermeneutical importance of purpose – I’m increasingly convinced that each book of the Bible is written for a purpose, or two, or three – otherwise, why write them. Often the purpose is explicit, sometimes it’s clearly implicit, other times its a product of its context which is revealed by other books (like reading Psalms against the history of Israel). Any “big idea” of a passage should somehow relate to the big idea of the book – or you run the risk of communicating something the author isn’t.

5. The book as hermeneutical unit. As a corollary to the last point, this means that if each book is a coherent piece of literature, of varying genres, then you’re expected to, by the second reading, know how the book ends, and appreciate how the particular passage you’re looking at helps the author communicate his purpose. This also assumes that the Bible is meant to be dwelt on and read more than once. This means textuality is the first step before intertextuality – so, for example, the best way to understand what function Matthew is having the Pharisees play early in the gospel is by seeing how they develop by the end of the gospel, not how John treats Nicodemus, or even, necessarily, how the Pharisees were actually perceived in history – though these are important.

6. Mission (making the gospel known to people) is worship, and includes being, saying, and doing. I’m not yet ready to argue that mission=worship, but I’m sure it’s a subset. Most passages where Paul talks about evangelism involve the sacrificial use of one’s gifts to serve the body, and reach others. How we do corporate worship is to be intelligible, and should result in visiting unbelievers converting.

7. Systematic theology is a product of biblical theology – creation and new creation are profoundly important. The Bible is the best method for understanding God’s revelation because it points to how he is revealed in Christ. It teaches us about God. It teaches us about us. It does this best when you figure out how different passages relate to us through Jesus and the narrative of salvation history (how God worked out his plan over time). The new creation is the telos for most aspects of systematic theology, creation supplies us with the tools to figure out the nature of things sans sin. Sin obviously messes things up – so much that it gets its own point below. But understanding what we were meant to be, and how we will be, is important.

8. The incredible significance of the fall – bad theology, bad ethics, a weak understanding of Scripture, and too positive an anthropology (understanding of humanity) flow from playing down the effect of sin. Sin breaks everything. So much that God sent Jesus to die to atone for it to not just move us past our initial anthropology when we are united to him, but move us towards our future anthropology. Sin especially breaks our ability to think, and particularly our ability to know God and ourselves. All the problems in contemporary theology, and in public debate, stem from failing to understand how sin has affected humanity.

9. Ethics is a product of Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, the fall, mission, and eschatology. This is the conclusion of 6, 7, and 8. How we lived is framed by the theological realities, who God is, who Jesus is, who we are, and where we’re going.

10.Integrating ideas is important. I feel like I’ve got a better, more nuanced grasp of things I knew before college, partly because I’ve put time into reading, not just people I agree with, but critically reading people I don’t, and figuring out – with help from brilliant and ministry minded lecturers – how things fit together. I complain a lot about the stress of college, and the workload, but there’s no doubt when I read stuff I wrote a few years ago my thinking has developed – and the beauty of a well thought out college curriculum is that it has developed through integrating multiple streams of thought and data into one or two big ideas. I’m convinced that if you have an anaemic view of one thing, the flow on effect to all other things is more significant than you might think (except Greek). So if your doctrine of Scripture is wonky, everything else is wonky – this is true for most doctrinal points.

11. Practice makes better – especially with writing. I’ve produced, after culling things back to their word limit, 30,000+ words a semester of essay, that’s 150,000 words so far. My essays now are much easier to read, and their arguments much more cohesive, than in first year, and I’m producing them in significantly less time. Having something that forces you to produce work, and assesses it, is great for honing a craft.

I certainly slept better after thinking about why I was spending so much time on an essay.

*Disclaimer – these thoughts are my own, and not necessarily representative of anything the QTC faculty teaches or believes if they don’t want to teach or believe said things…

How to make Dropbox even more awesome


Image Credit: This not really relevant image is from the Dropbox Blog.

[pq]I heart Dropbox. It is incredibly useful, but an automated Dropbox is even better.[/pq] There’s no point me giving you my referral link because referrals are full. But other people might like to share theirs in the comments to get a little bit more space. Also. To get more space you should do Dropbox’s nine step introductory challenge thing.

I’ve been trying to make Dropbox the central point of getting my life organised and a bit more automated. I also signed up for Google Drive this week, which means I’ve got another 5GB of cloud storage to play with, it seems pretty integrated with the Google services I use anyway, but I don’t think it’s a Dropbox killer.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to make Dropbox awesome.

1. Send to Dropbox – ever get an email with an attachment that would be handy somewhere in your Dropbox managed life? I know I do. Especially PDF files of journal articles that I email myself from the online journal database we use at college. I’ve set up a rule so that any email from this service gets forwarded to the email address that Send to Dropbox provides, and then this file magically appears in my Dropbox folder, which is called “Attachments”…

2. If I start sending stuff other than such essays to this folder, things are going to start getting confused in that folder. So I use Wappwolf’s Dropbox Automator to move everything in that attachments folder into a folder called Sortbox. Wappwolf does heaps of stuff, Lifehacker has some cool tips.

3. Sortbox is a sorting tool that is pretty much made redundant by the incredible range of tools available on Wappwolf, but it allows you to make rules based on specific file types and names, it’s a bit simpler than Wappwolf, and might be a good starting point if you don’t want to spend time figuring out what you can get done with Wappwolf. Once a file is in Sortbox I have a rule that sends all my files from the journal provider, which start with ATLA into a folder called Essays. Wappwolf then takes over again, and uploads any file in essays to google docs. Also in a folder called Essays. I’m not sure that this step is necessary. But I also save the working versions of my essays, in word, into this folder, and this gives me a backup on Dropbox, and Google Docs.

4. If this then that is a fun automated tool that helps you make life awesomer and more automated. It lets you do all sorts of fun stuff with Dropbox and other web services. So, for example, if somebody tags me in a photo on Facebook, ifttt shoots it to a folder in my Dropbox. This is a pretty useless little recipe, but there are all sorts of ways to use this. Also, when I take a photo with Instagram, it goes to a folder in my Dropbox. Ifttt has 21 different channels that you can play with, some are more friendly with Dropbox than others.

5. I also sync my Dropbox, particularly my essay folder, with my favourite iPad annotation app, GoodReader. Which means I can read and take notes for my essays on the road.

6. Stuff I scan using my Doxie Go also goes into Dropbox, and one day, when I’m feeling really organised, this will lead to more awesome automated rules.

Liveblogging QTC Preaching Week at Venn Theology

Venntheology.com is where I put college related stuff. Over the next three days QTC is hosting preaching week, featuring stuff from:

  • David Jones
  • Luke Tattersall
  • Phil Campbell
  • Gary Millar
  • Mike O’Connor
  • David Mansfield
  • Steve Cree

That’s a pretty good line up. In no particular order. Registrations for the event have closed – but if you feel like you’re missing out – or you’re here at preaching week and don’t want to take notes then I’ll be putting mine online. The talks are also being recorded, and I’m sure they’ll be added to QTC’s treasure trove of online resources.

That is all.

Calvin on giving and taking offence

We’re reading Calvin in two subjects this year – which is nice and efficient. Anyway. I’ve been thinking about the nature of offending people online, and how it behoves a reader to be charitable in one’s interpretation of other’s words. While I understand that communication is a two way street, and the speaker (or writer) has some responsibility for how a hearer (or reader) will understand their words – I think you can only cater so much for this, and the reader has a responsibility to think about context, and other interpretive principles. Anyway. Here’s Calvin distinguishing between the types of readers (or hearers) one should care about offending.

“I will here make some observations on offenses, what distinctions are to be made between them, what kind are to be avoided and what disregarded. This will afterwards enable us to determine what scope there is for our liberty among men. We are pleased with the common division into offense given and offense taken, since it has the plain sanction of Scripture, and not improperly expresses what is meant. If from unseasonable levity or wantonness, or rashness, you do any thing out of order or not in its own place, by which the weak or unskillful are offended, it may be said that offense has been given by you, since the ground of offense is owing to your fault. And in general, offense is said to be given in any matter where the person from whom it has proceeded is in fault. Offense is said to be taken when a thing otherwise done, not wickedly or unseasonably, is made an occasion of offense from malevolence or some sinister feeling. For here offense was not given, but sinister interpreters ceaselessly take offense. By the former kind, the weak only, by the latter, the ill-tempered and Pharisaical are offended. Wherefore, we shall call the one the offense of the weak, the other the offense of Pharisees, and we will so temper the use of our liberty as to make it yield to the ignorance of weak brethren, but not to the austerity of Pharisees.”

From Book 3, Chapter 19.

50 Apps for your Christmas iPad

Did you get an iPad for Christmas? I’ve had my iPad for a while now, and I’ve started to sort out the dross from the gold. Here are my favourites from a range of categories to get you going.

It really is a sensational device.

Reading Stuff

1. Reeder – best RSS reader, hands down.
2. GoodReader – great for PDF reading and annotating – terrific for essay writing.
3. Instapaper – curate your own longform articles from around the web to build your own magazine.
4. Zite – is an automated magazine service that finds articles based on your interests.
5. Flipboard – turns your social media channels (including google reader) into a magazine.
6. Kindle – Get Amazon’s range of e-books on your iPad.
7. Stumbleupon – click your way around interesting links in areas you’re interested in.
8. Google Currents – See what’s hot in Google.
9. Pinterest – another app for finding fun stuff on the interwebs. Populated mostly by crafty mums.

Photo Stuff

1. Instagram – I’d rather shoot photos with my iPhone camera, but the iPad app is great for checking out the social photostream (you can follow me, my username is nmcampbell, my feed is mainly photos of coffee and my daughter).
2. Phoster – makes cool posters.
3. Diptic – Stitch photos together in artistic ways.
4. Process – apply filters to your photos (not quite the same as Instagram) with the tap of a button.
5. Poly – Uses the power of maths to make polygon styled pictures. Kind of fun.
6. Photoshop Express – a nice lightweight photo editor from Adobe.
7. Grid Lens – is kind of fun, makes an instant diptic style collage (as in you take a bunch of shots at once, or with a slight delay. Clever.
8. Snapseed – I just bought this, and haven’t had a chance to play with it much yet.
9. ColorSplash – edit black and white photos with a splash of colour.

Social

1. Facebook
2. Twitter
3. Path – a journal type thing where you can keep track of your movements, meals, and meetings, in a social way.
4. Beanhunter – find and review cafes everywhere.
5. Foursquare – let people know where you are and if you like it.
6. UrbanSpoon – find a restaurant and review it.
7. Stamped – review anything. Places. Books. Movies.

Utilities

1. Dropbox
2. Evernote
3. Bump – share files between iOS devices with a physical shake or “bump”…
4. Bluetooth Photo Share – great for giving gran some photos on her iPad.
5. Blogsy – nice multi-featured blogging software.
6. Google App
7. Remote – control your apple gear

Games

1. Angry Birds – But you already know this…
2. Stick Wars – Tower defence with stick figures.
3. Fruit Ninja – Slice and dice flying fruit.
4. Words with Friends
5. Scrabble – for the traditionalists
5. The Sims – I just downloaded this.
6. Wolfenstein 3D – A dose of nostalgia
7. NBA Jam – another dash of nostalgia. Great port from the SNES.

Music

1. Shazam – hear a new song, Shazam will tell you what it is.
2. Garageband – mix and mash your own music.
3. I am T-Pain – Autotune everything
4. Songify – speak music

Bible/College stuff

1. ESV
2. YouVersion – multiple translations at the tap of a finger
3. Logos – get your Logos library on the go
4. Vyrso – the book reader from Logos
5. Complete Class Organiser – Take notes, keep track of your timetable, and record lectures in one app
6. Greek Reader’s Lexicon – nice Greek app by Sam Freney
7. QuickCite – scan book barcodes get bibliography details by email.

That’s a bunch of apps – have I missed any?

Fork Criticism: Understanding Biblical scholarship through cutlery…

If you feel like you should be on the cutting edge of Biblical scholarship, or if you just want to get the point… here’s a visual guide to various scholarly approaches to the Bible, applied to cutlery. For your edification and education…

We begin with what we have. A fork. It is a very clever implement. Great for stabbing food and carrying it to one’s mouth. It has the perfect number of prongs; one less and small food would escape, one more and the fork would be ungainly.

The foundational assumption in higher criticism is that this fork is a development of history. It is unlikely, given its perfect suitability for the job, that there were not previous, primitive versions.

These versions may have been the result of a series of communities, each with inadequate eating utensils (form criticism)…

There may also have been a “genuine” original tradition, that others have built on, adapting the fork to their own communities and types of food – if you don’t just eat a big hunk of meat, then you need multiple prongs… There might be different metals involved in the handle and the prongs… there might be a brand name stamped on the fork… there are myriad avenues for speculating about the various forms that have combined in this one utensil.

Or they may have been the result of somebody sitting down with various eating utensils and combining them (source criticism).

Source criticism is also pretty useful when you’re dealing with a complex and evolved version of a fork – when we already have a version of the fork to compare things to… We can conduct “Spork Criticism”…

Or, for the more highly evolved, Splade Criticism…

Things start to get a little bit more complicated as the cutlery gets more complicated…

Maybe the final form it the result of somebody bringing a bunch of different utensils together.

Or maybe it represents one tradition’s approach to cutlery and efficient design.

One of the interesting things about this level of complexity is that sometimes sources and forms collide… sometimes what one group saw as a “tradition” actually turns out to be from two different sources.

Either way… what we have is a final form fork. And we can speculate about its compositional history.

Sometimes this allows us to study the previous types of fork, and draw conclusions about the people involved, and their diets. Sometimes we can see the seams where new prongs were welded on. This excites some people more than others. This process – either in source or form criticism – is called Redaction Criticism…

If you do redaction criticism with the final form of the fork you can understand the community who put it all together… This is close to the traditional view of fork scholarship, one might call it a Canonical approach.

Some people are just born skeptical – they have doubts about the fork, our hands are natural, the products of science and stuff, so we should eat with them. Fork users are gullible, and if there is a fork, it’s probably a symbol of the hand anyway, used by powerful people to control the eating habits of the masses. This is “Radical Criticism”…

Sometimes it just makes more sense to see the fork for what it is – a cleverly designed implement that serves a purpose. All this studying of forks sometimes gets in the way of just using the fork for what it is made for. Eating. This is the “traditional” view.

What a week…

I feel like I owe you all an apology. But there’s a blog out there that collects lame apologies from people for not posting on their blogs… and I want no part of that. I’ll find the link soon. I promise.

Here’s a snapshot of my last eight days. Well. A series of snapshots. We spent the week in Townsville where I was consulting for the company consulting for the V8 race that was held up there over the weekend.

Here’s the media centre I sat in for four days.

Fun week. Townsville still feels a bit like home. And I do love working in PR. But it was back to college today. Five subjects this semester. Hopefully there’ll still be time for this little ol’ blog.

Queensland Assembly: A taste of the future

I had my first taste of the Presbyterian Assembly line today. Turns out to get ahead in the denomination in Queensland you should be balding and sport a goatee.

I sat in on a day’s worth of policy debate on a bunch of boring stuff, in order to see the appointment of our new principal (pending his acceptance, other bloggers have jumped the gun on that one…). Gary Millar. Who is cool because he knows U2. Sort of.

The coffee at Assembly was awful. I sense a bit of a business opportunity.

Tomorrow morning I’m doing the “devotion” at Assembly. Five minutes on Romans 14. Devotion is such an odd word.

Ahh. Holidays…

Semester One finally finished for me yesterday. Which is delightful news. Because it means that other than a PR contract I have to fulfil in Townsville in two weeks, and some bits and pieces over the next two weeks (like preaching on Revelation 19-20 at Scots). It would be horrible to forget that. Wouldn’t it. To turn up at church not realising you’re meant to be preaching.

Anyway. Semester One essays will eventually be posted over at Venn Theology. I was particularly happy with the essay I wrote on the relationship between special and general revelation (reading the Bible, and science). Other essays included a look at hope in the book of Jeremiah, a review of a German guy’s view on Luke (his name is Conzelmann), and one on the role/authority of tradition in the church.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and I was infinitely less stressed this year. Not sure why. Maybe it was the almost complete lack of social life.

Anyway. That’s a long way of saying you may see more, or less, of me in coming weeks. Depending entirely on how long Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood takes me to finish…

What does your perfect holiday day look like? Especially a winter holiday day. I’ll be trying to produce a string of them in the next few weeks, and could do with some inspiration.

Things are better in κοινη

One of the great things about being a Bible college student is Bible college jokes make sense. Apologies to all my non Bible College readers for this one…

My friend Canadian Mitch sent me this. He has a photo blog, you should check it out.

Also. If you are a college student (particularly a first year at QTC) starting to stress about exams – check out my college resources page, I posted heaps of exam prep stuff last year.