Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Five Stages of a Story: Part 1

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The five stages of a story is a process through which reporters and editors can work together on a story — or any other content. At the heart of the process is a continual emphasis on focus. Here are several quotes to help define what focus means in this process.

William Strunk, E.B. White, The Elements of Style:  Choose a suitable design and hold to it. A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing. Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. This calls for a scheme or procedure…planning must be a deliberate prelude to writing. The first principle of composition, therefore, is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape.

William Blundell, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Artful and impeccable use of the language is less important in storytelling than you think. A well-shaped idea, convincing illustration and interpretation of it, and sound story structure count for more. Lacking these, the writer who follows all the instructions on fine-tuning his prose in all the book’s extant will produce a well-written failure.

Roy Peter Clark, Don Fry, Coaching Writers: Perhaps the central step in the writing process, focus gives a story unity and coherence. Most stories should be about one thing. The writer should understand and capture the heart of the story and offer it to the reader. Focus determines what to toss out as well as what to include. Many problems, especially disorganization, result when stories lack focus. Writers and editors search for focus by using a variety of tools; writing the lead, coming up with a headline, making a list of the most important points in the story, and developing a theme or point statement.

Thomas Boswell, Washington Post: The most important thing in the story is finding the central idea. It’s the one thing to be given a topic, but you have to find the idea or the concept within that topic. Once you have that idea or thread, all the other anecdotes, illustrations and quotes are pearls that hang on this thread. The thread may seem very humble, the pearls may seem very flashy, but it’s still the thread that makes the necklace.

When a story idea is focused, one is able to see the “basic structural design” and “determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape” — which means focus leads to structure. The focus is “a well-shaped idea” that leads to a successful story. And that is why “most stories should be about one thing,” with the well-shaped idea as that one thing. Not necessary a simple, one-note idea. But an idea that is clear about the story’s meaning. And that idea or one thing becomes the thread upon which reporters and editors can build a structure, string information, quotes, anecdotes and all the other building blocks of a story in a logical sequence and in the right propotions. That is focus.


Written by mroberts8

October 16, 2009 at 11:17 pm

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