Saturday, September 22, 2012

Storytelling without a classic 'nut graf'

Many times -- most times, perhaps -- we write stories so that early on, they deliver a strong "nut graf," or the answer to the reader's question of, "Why am I reading this?" That nut graf can take various forms: It's constructed differently in a straight news story than it is in a feature, for example.

But Ashley May wrote this story, about people who live at a motel, a little differently. As we worked on the story, we talked about wanting to tell a story without that classic, anchoring paragraph. Our reasoning: It wasn't a news story and wasn't a trend story; it's a human story that's happening in our community. We wanted to lay down enough markers early in the story to make it clear what readers would be getting, but we wanted the story to develop without the classic nut graf.

But copy editor Dan Rorabaugh, on his first read of the piece, felt like it didn't deliver enough on what the story was about or why a reader should care to read it.

His points were good. So Ashley and I talked, and worked on meeting Dan halfway -- we tried to strengthen those markers to make sure the reader knew why the piece was worth reading, and hint at what they'd get out of the story.

Read the piece and let us know how we did.