Story planning

Keep your eyes and ears open for the unique and unusual (Plastic face protection from snowstorms. Canada, Montreal, 1939. Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo / Het Leven / Fotograaf onbekend, SFA022813554.)
Keep your eyes and ears open for the unique and unusual (Plastic face protection from snowstorms. Canada, Montreal, 1939. Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo / Het Leven / Fotograaf onbekend, SFA022813554.)

So you have a great story idea. What next?

You need to plan carefully. You’ll need to conduct research (Internet, libraries, government offices and departments), find knowledgable people to provide and verify information, and find the right people to interview for quotes. You’ll also need to ensure you’ve covered the 5Ws and H (yes, they’re vital in a feature too!). Finally, ask yourself: is my story newsworthy?

Bill Blundell asserts that great writing can’t be divorced from really good reporting – in other words, you need to be able to gather facts and observe situations to write well. You cannot write around holes in information!

The good news: any holes you have will begin to show in the Focus and Organising stages of the process, well before you start writing. Go back to The Writing Process handout, and you will see that any problems which arise in one stage show up in the next. You should fix them before going any further.

Building Materials (from Hart’s A Writer’s Coach, p. 30)

Every writer works with three forms of raw material:

  1. What people say happened (quotations from those who should know)
  2. Records of what happened (including statistics, databases, transcripts, video, photographs, etc.)
  3. What we observed happening (what we have seen, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt happen with our own senses)

Journalists tend to rely on quotations – or to a lesser extent – public records. They’re weakest at observation, the descriptive detail that can bring writing to life.

The most credible, engaging writing draws on all three sources of raw material, often buttressing each point with three kinds of evidence. For example, the police say car thieves are running wild (1), the annual crime statistics show a 47 per cent increase in car thefts (2), and you noticed that a third of the vehicles in parking lots have steering-wheel locks (3).


NEXT STEPS:

Start a research file for your story. This may be hard copy, or something you keep on a USB. You need to bring this to class next week, as evidence that you’ve started to research, gather and organise the raw materials for your story. You need to include:

  • The names and contact details of the people you will speak to in order to find facts and information
  • The names and contact details of people you will quote in your story
  • Sources you are using to find information (e.g. the Internet – provide URLs; the Australian Bureau of Statistics – include a link to the information you’re studying; libraries; reports; etc.)
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Author: veritychambers

Journalist and teacher

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