Monday, June 16, 2014

Writing a Story

The technology we use has changed, but writing hasn't: Good writing takes work. Here are 10 Tips to help you learn the techniques good journalists use and the ones we look for at Young Voices:

1. Don’t ask the reader questions. Don’t start your story with “Have you ever ...?” or “Did you know ...?” Just tell them. “There are more than 200 breeds of dogs ...” Or make them curious: “The first time Dave Jones saw a llama in his backyard, he was surprised. But now he sees them every morning.”

2. Write about the story, not about the reporter. Except in a review, you shouldn’t use the words “I” and “me” very often. Maybe not at all. If you are interviewing the President, you don’t have to tell us “I had the wonderful chance to interview the President!” because we’ll figure that out. And don’t write about how excited you were. If you do a good job, we’ll be excited, too!

3. What is this story about? Don’t forget to tell the reader what you’re talking about. If you’re writing about a state park, where is it? Tell them what is there and why they might want to go there. If you’re writing about a club, who can join? How? And, if you write about going to Kinderhook, don’t forget to briefly tell who Martin Van Buren was, even though they ought to know that already.

4. Quotes matter. Getting quotes into your story helps give it personality and brings it to life. (Get the first and last names of the people you quote.)

5. You’re a reporter, not a salesperson. Unless you are reviewing a movie or book, don’t tell readers they should buy something. It is okay, at the end of your story, to say, “for more information” and give a web address.

6. Read the other stories at Young Voices. Support your fellow reporters with comments, yes, but also learn from them. Your own writing will improve and YVNY will also become better.

7. You belong here. Now get to work. You’re probably used to being the best writer in the room. Here, you’re a good writer in a crowd of good writers. But you know what? Some of the people here are not ever going to get around to actually writing anything. Be one of the people who digs in and gets to work, and you’ll already be one of the best, even among this group!

8. When in doubt, ask. It’s easier for us to answer a question than to repair a mistake!

9. Story length: If you want people to read your stories, keep it short, but long enough to say something interesting. If you're done at 150 words, maybe you didn't have anything to say, or maybe you left some things out. But if you go over 500 words, people will get tired of reading and will stop. Your best bet is to write the story first, and worry about the length later.

10. Read your story aloud before you post it.
It’s a good way to spot missing words or grammatical errors, and to tell if you used the same word too many times. It can also help you notice short choppy sentences or sentences that ramble on forever.
 (And use Spellcheck before you post -- one change about the new technology is that it leaves little excuse for misspelled words!)