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.