Fifteen tips on story organization / 9 ноября 2007 г.

By Don Gibb, reporting instructor, Ryerson’s School of Journalism

  1. Do a brief outline before you begin to write. It shouldn’t take you longer than a few minutes. This becomes your writing map and should help you determine your theme and sub themes. It should also help you decide what to toss out — which is as important as deciding what to use.
  2. Find a word, a phrase, a sentence to capture your focus. You need this to keep you on track. Tape it to your computer terminal as a constant reminder not to veer off track.
  3. Decide what form is best to tell the story: chronological; block/chapter; classic feature; opening summary followed by the details; hour-glass (news first, followed by narrative); inverted pyramid (often on deadline).
  4. Ask yourself questions all the way through the process from idea to completion: What’s my story? What makes it different? What’s the point? What’s in it for readers? Why should anyone care?
  5. Know what your problems are before you begin to write. If you are dealing with lots of dates, times, locations and/or names, organize them. For example, write out the chronology in advance to see where it begins and where it goes. Same with names and locations. This way, you get to see the complexities of the story before you try to tackle it.
  6. Who are the main characters? What do they bring to the story? Do I need to include everyone I interviewed?
  7. Look for key moments in your story — anecdotes that should turning points, twists in plot, changes in emotion. Get the details to support those key moments.
  8. Let interview subjects have their say . . . then wave goodbye to them. This keeps your story less complicated and confusing for readers. (NOTE: This isn’t a “rule,” it’s a suggestion, especially in stories with a lot of interviewees.)
  9. Don’t allow people to say the same thing as someone else in your story — unless there is a reason to add weight to a statement or fact. Such repetition is often needless and done for one reason — someone was kind enough to give you an hour of his or her time, so maybe you should give that person a few paragraphs. Poor reason!
  10. Try writing without your notes. The story, one writing coach says, is in your head. Only refer to your notes when you need to.
  11. Use transitions to move your story from one person to the next, one location to the next, one theme to the next, one time element to the next. Such indications of movement help readers follow the story.
  12. Justify everything you use. Ask yourself questions: Is this advancing the story? Why is this important? What happens to the story if I leave it out? As William Zinsser says (On Writing Well): Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful?
  13. Ask your interview subjects “story-ending questions” as a way to wrap up your story. Where do you go from here? What have you learned from your experience? What message do you want to pass on to readers?
  14. Know how you want to end your story before you start. It makes it easier to write when you know where you want to end. So when you are thinking of your opening, think, too, of your ending.
  15. Read your story aloud to see how it sounds — because that’s how it will sound to readers. Does it have a sense of rhythm?
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