Essentials For Solid Storytelling

Essentials For Solid Storytelling

Whether it’s an Instagram post, Twitter thread, Facebook rant, blog, newspaper, or work of fiction, you consume several stories a day. We’re all telling stories about ourselves, what we believe and what we observe of the world around us.

As a journalism program graduate and someone who currently works in Communications, I know that telling a good story is a critical piece in sharing important news. This article is for you, if like me, you write news stories, blog posts, occasionally share longer posts on Instagram or Facebook or just curious about what goes into solid storytelling.

What is this story and why is it interesting/important?

This is the first thing you need to know about what you want to write- what’s the story. Don’t get too lost in the details at first; those will come later. For example, I recently had the opportunity to do a multi-part story about a university undergraduate experience. When first mentioning it to someone interested in my work, I said, “I’m writing a story about eight students who have been given $10,000 to buy a piece of artwork for their university art collection.” The story is interesting because it was a unique opportunity for a bunch of students to have a significant amount of money to do what professional curators around the world do as part of their academic experience. Once you know what story you want to tell, it will help you to focus on the other details you want to include.

What are the most important facts? Include them in the initial paragraphs.

You’ve heard that people don’t read much anymore. Not true. According to a 2017 report by Pew Research Centre, many are reading the news on their mobile phones. It’s safe to say, that most of us are pretty busy and we scan for the important information and move on.

When writing a news story the traditional journalistic method of storytelling helps to ensure your readers are walking away with the information they need. This method is called the inverted pyramid – you share information in order of importance.

Your lead, the first line of your story, is also called the hook. It tells you one of more interesting parts of the story. Then you can include a quote from the subject of the story followed by what we call a nut graph – a paragraph with whatever is left of the who, what, where, when and why. After that first one to three (sometimes four) sections you include any additional information. This is true for all types of posts, even video. When creating the episodes for my multi-part story about those students, I made sure to include the who/what/why/where/when information at the top of each episode. It was short enough to not bore my retained audience to tears but long enough to inform new viewers on why the video they were watching was important.

A word about word counts – Shakespeare got it right when he wrote, brevity is the soul of wit. Most News stories don’t call for an essay-length post (not to negate the work of feature writers, I treasure a good feature). In my job writing news stories for a post-secondary institution, the sweet place for a standard news story or feature is between 600 and 800 words. If I can edit it down to 650, that’s when I have a real winner.

What visuals are you including?

Visuals are not an option. No ifs, and, or buts. I mean, feel free to post an article without an accompanying photo, but don’t be surprised if there’s a lack of engagement. A picture is worth a People click on a story for several reasons, but judge interest level on a story by a subject of image, quality, layout

To expand the use of your story, consider video storytelling. Video storytelling allows you to communicate details that you might spend a few paragraphs on in 15 seconds instead. Here’s an example of the final video I did to accompany my story about students selecting artwork.


Have you checked your spelling and grammar?

Check your spelling and grammar. Double check. Triple check. There are several reasons for this, including spelling errors can be a distraction. A small one like not catching your “the” turning into “teh” is a one-off that most will forgive you for. However,  if your work is littered with errors like “teh” world would be a batter place if had more civic discussions,” it will be hard for your readers to take you seriously.  When in doubt, reach out to a friend to read your work or consider using Grammarly, a spelling and grammar checking app/Chrome extension. The basic version is free!

What voice are you using? Who are you?

Figure out your voice and practice using it. What style do YOU write in? What are important parts of yourself that you infuse into the stories YOU tell? Don’t try to be someone you’re not.  Most readers can tell when you’re being false, so make sure to be yourself.

In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King said writing is “about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enrich your own life as well.” The technical principals are important, but even as we work to become better communicators, I believe this is a beautiful sentiment to hold onto. Let’s enrich the lives of others even we enrich our own with solid storytelling.

Breaking in Brand Authentic

Breaking in Brand Authentic

Wakanda Forever! That’s my default greeting for the rest of 2018, and it speaks to a few things – first my love for all things Black Panther, but also my love for the superhero world and the multi-faceted conversations that surround the world of superheroes and comic-books-turned-movies era that we get to live in.

This is part of my authentic self. I’m a young, black woman who’s always got an ear to news, spirituality, the Blerd universe (black + nerd for those who don’t know) and tools for adulting and achieving my goals.

This is the authentic part of me that I use to organize the stories I tell and information I share. It took some years to accept that my success wasn’t in changing the core of who I am, but learning more about it and pulling out the gems that help me to navigate the world.

Knowing yourself is an essential first step and ongoing course of action when creating a brand and deciding how you are going to communicate information. Here are some tips that have helped me to navigate being myself and the beginnings of building a brand:

  1. Discover who you are and lean into it

This first tip is simple – there are things that are going to resonate with you and not others. Find those things and lean into them.

  1. It’s been done before, but not by you.

With over seven billion people on the planet and however many people existed before that, it’s a sure bet that some version of an idea you have existed before now, but don’t let that stop you. Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be a storyteller, first as an artistic performer- an actor or singer, and then as an English or history teacher and finally as a reporter in the vein of one of my favourite comic-book characters, Lois Lane. Relating information has always been part of what I like to do, and for many years I wanted to do a radio show, which then evolved into a podcast show. I gave up on the idea several times because it felt like everyone and their grandma was starting a podcast, advertising it on Twitter and discussing many topics I was interested in talking about on a show. I know that I always got stuck on that and just not wanting to do anything, but there’s only one of you, and only you can tell your story in the way it needs to be told. Today, I’m working on my podcast!

  1. Consistency is key. Yes, it’s true.

You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, but whatever you’re going to do, do it with consistency. Authenticity is word we like to throw around with hashtags or one-off blog posts, but that kind of “Brand Authentic” doesn’t often work.  For those who make their authentic work and thrive for their brand, it is because of their consistency in messaging and presence. When I think consistent, I think of Black Girl Nerds, their good morning tweets, and starting and engagement in Blerd conversations. I think of ChescaLeigh, and I think of my very own mentor, Pauleanna Reid.

There’s a lot voices in the world and in everything that I’ve learned while studying brands over the past year, it is that the consistent voices are the ones that gather followings and can share and promote more conversations.

For me, breaking into “Brand Authentic” means the development of a new podcast. This show, hosted by yours truly, is designed for the news-curious, spiritual-leaning, millennials who are figuring life out. Follow me on Instagram at @raqlionchaser to keep up with my next step in breaking into Brand Authentic and I hope to hear about your journey’s as well!

Raquel Russell is a writer and digital content creator. A proud alumnus of the New Girl on The Block Program, Raquel uses her writing and communications skills as part of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Communications team where she helps report campus news. Follow and shoot Raquel a message on Instagram and Twitter @raqlionchaser.