Fifty ways to say “debacle”

Today The Atlantic publishes a sprawling piece on Venezuela co-written by our editor Quico Toro and Moisés Naím.

Call me a geek (or a brown-noser), but one of the things I liked the most about it was … its architecture.

Writing about Venezuela is a challenge. After countless stories on our country’s never-ending collapse, how do you keep things fresh? How do you tell this story in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re badgering people with one tragedy after another?

Quico and Naím do a great job, focusing on individual characters to paint the bigger picture. So while they mention pretty much everything, from the kids being robbed to the blackouts, from the massacre at Tumeremo to the drought in El Guri, it is the individual characters that leap out from the screen.

How do they do it? Well, for starters, they picked their spots.

They start with the ridiculous story of a businessperson penalized for providing toilet paper to his employees, and down the rabbit hole we go. This choice was important, because the person they start out with has to be someone The Atlantic’s readers could identify with. It’s easier to do it this way than by starting with the story of, say, a single mother who lives in poverty, for example. Once you have drawn the reader in, you focus on the rest.

The other thing they get right is that they do not get bogged down in the technical. They are not interested in the political, or in the diplomatic angle. They don’t mention Ramos Allup or Tibisay Lucena.

They want to convey the stories of the people suffering through this madness. In so doing, they let the stories speak for themselves, and steer clear of much adornment. The strength of their piece is helped by carefully selected hyperlinks they place with each of their claims.

Anyway – for those of you interested in improving your writing, I think the piece is an excellent showcase of technique.

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