Too often, stories fail because they never advanced beyond the “topic” stage. That is, the reporter wanted to write about something — homelessness, maybe — but didn’t work hard enough to find the most compelling idea about that topic. The result is an unfocused story.
Or we end up with text when what we really needed was an infographic. Or an audio slideshow. Or whatever. Thinking hard about the idea ought to prompt a realization about what form the story (or J-unit) should take.
Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post talks about the importance of finding a central idea in a topic. Once we find that idea, all the anecdotes, facts and quotes hang on that that thread (the idea) “like pearls on a necklace.” They hold the story together. And that’s way important.
And this applies not just to text stories but other forms. An audio slideshow or video that isn’t sharply focused on an idea that guides the narrative will contain extraneous interviews, photographs that seem random, and often will just be too long.
Finding a device that fits the idea is crucial, whether it’s a character who guides us through the story (or two, with different perspectives) or a first-person narrator.
In this story about the Society for Creative Anachronism, Seth Putnam takes a particular point of view to develop a fresh idea about those folks dressed as knights and jousting in Peace Park. Please read every bit of it for class tomorrow.
In this piece from GQ, Chris Heath offers a different perspective on Gary Faulkner, the guy who went to Pakistan to catch Osama Bin Laden and deliver him to the police. It is a delightful read.
We’ll discuss these in detail tomorrow. Think about the pearls. But especially think about the string.