Improve Your Storytelling Skills
Butch Ward reports:
"Instead of just lugging your writer clubs to Poynter, let’s start with a smarter warm-up and a hint of what you could learn from your time here. There are thousands of swings – and thousands for stories – out there. Throughout your career, we hope you’ll tell a lot of them. Just not all at once. So here are a few essentials to focus on...Movies pull us through stories with strong scenes, compelling characters and revelatory details. Written stories can do the same thing. Help readers see. Zoom in tight[ly] on details or images that have the most meaning; be descriptive and specific...Pull back or pan more quickly through contextual information that is necessary for understanding. Compress those sections lest they drag the story down. Pace the story aggressively. Build the entire piece out of tightly focused sections or scenes. Set the story up with a strong nut section or elegant foreshadow, then develop key scenes or information sections one at a time; use [subheads] if it helps you determine the purpose of each section or scene...Reinforce the central theme through repetition...Most writers I know have been praised at one time or another for their beginnings...[and many] for their endings...[but] few if any have been praised for their middles...[S]ave something special for the middle...Such a story element, as described by Don Fry, serves as a gold coin on the path of the story, a reward for the reader, an incentive to continue reading. Without such a reward, readers will be tempted to jump off the trail, never getting to that special ending that you have planned for them...Interviewing is an essential part of reporting, obviously. But when we learn to report with silence and stillness...powerful things begin to happen...We see detail and nuance that reflect how our subjects truly live their lives, not just what they tell us in their carefully tailored responses to our questions. When we learn to shut our mouths and open our eyes and our ears and our minds, we discover things that the most skilled interviewer on [E]arth would never have uncovered...Our notebooks overflow with the wonderful, terrible, sprawling mess of our subjects’ days and nights. Later, we can ask them what it all means and why it matters...How will I frame this story?...'The tighter the frame,' New York Times reporter David Barstow says, 'the deeper I can go.' And the earlier in the reporting and writing process he identifies the frame, the more it can guide his work...What’s my story really about? No question is more important to your ability to organize the material you’ve gathered and to the final piece you produce...Taking time to think is the best way I know to transform the blur of the day into a bit of [slow motion]. Your pause might be brief, but the payback can last."
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