Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jacqui on better story focusing

Key things I took from Jacqui's videoconference this afternoon, and there will be more later on some of these (and by all means, add your thoughts here, or do your own posts, whatever ... let's help each other out).

But anyway, these will definitely be some of the things I'll be working on in terms of how I do my job and how I can help you do yours:

--Recognize that you have a writing process (see April 7 entry), things you do or habits you have that help you write. Realize that you can control it more, and when you do, you will help yourself become better.

--The story idea, or 'generating plan' as Jacqui referred to it, is not the story. But it doesn't mean you can't discuss possibilities. So, make two lists:
  • What do I need to know? And how am I going to find out? These are the basic points your story must cover.
  • What do I want to know? And how am I going to find that out? This is the question that opens up possibilities for deeper stories, including narrative and investigative pieces. Make sure you get the basics to be able to write the basic story. Pursue, either for daily or longer-range, the story that arises from answering Question 2.
--The best things an editor can do is to ask the right questions: not how long the story will be, whether there's a photo with it, etc., but what did you find out? what are you missing? what are you worried about? what's the most interesting thing? how would you tell the story in 3 grafs?

--Use budgetlines as a tool and, she says, even as a weapon. Budgetlines can seem like makework to please an editor who's staring at the daily or Sunday budget (and they do serve that purpose too) but they can help you distill what your story's about, help sell that story to editors and the copy desk to ensure it gets treated right; communicates with photo and design; and essentially allows you to talk to yourself about your story. If you can't write a decent budgetline for your story, Jacqui said, you probably don't really know what it's about.

She suggested also checking out the two-sentence story and six-word memoir sites online as interesting ways to think of how to write a strong budgetline.