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The Art of Story Development. Journalism 350. Archived copy of this presentation:. Why art?. Creative ideas. Creative approaches. Creative sources. Every good story begins with a good idea. Good ideas in the newsroom. Where to get ideas?.

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The art of story development

The Art of Story Development

Journalism 350

Archived copy of this presentation

Archived copy of this presentation:


Why art

Why art?

  • Creative ideas.

  • Creative approaches.

  • Creative sources.

  • Every good story begins with a good idea.

  • Good ideas in the newsroom.

Where to get ideas

Where to get ideas?

  • Read everything you can get your hands on about the world and your locale. (Back issues of newpapers; talk to long-time administrators, teachers.)

  • Set up an RSS feed and Google alerts so info comes to you.

  • Eavesdrop – coffee houses, restaurants, elevators and Twitter (especially TwitterLocal)

Where to get ideas1

Where to get ideas?

  • Ask people – What’s on your mind? What gets you mad? What would you change? What issue are you passionate about?

    • Friends, classmates, teachers, secretaries, people standing in lines, etc.

Think creatively

Think creatively

  • Look at a calendar. Why?

  • Spend quality quiet time thinking about ideas and how you’d develop them. Gather your thoughts. How to do this?

Think creatively1

Think creatively

  • Think about different approaches you might take. Think about telling a story in a different way – pot holes.

  • Make some preliminary calls to check out ideas. Don’t get too wedded to an idea. If the sources aren’t there, the story isn’t there.

Types of stories

Types of stories

  • Issue-oriented stories

  • Reaction to national or international stories – localizing

  • Breaking news (expected and unexpected)

  • Profiles

  • Trend stories

The beauty of rss

The beauty of RSS

  • Really simple syndication – and it is really simple and helpful. Let’s see how easy it is.

  • Some suggestions for your feed?:

  • Youth journalism

  • Best high school newspapers

  • Google searches

  • Al Tompkins

  • The state Legislature

Examples of story idea tweets

Examples of story idea tweets

  • A local group has started a food bank for pets because of the recession.For those in need who are in #LNK – A pet food bank – more info on our blog.

  • Lincoln entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in a competition. This is happening tonight — Oct. 1.Is it on your calendar, Lincoln? Pitch Session this Thursday at Turbine Flats (, details here: #LNK

A calendar example

A calendar example

A calendar example1

A calendar example

Developing the story

Developing the story

  • Read everything you can on the person or the topic. Search in a variety of ways .

  • Envision your story .

  • Map out who you will talk to – but don’t just talk to the obvious sources – think of “new voices” you can include or someone who will provide an interesting, unexpected perspective.

Good reporting basics

Good reporting basics

  • Research. Do your homework before the interviews. Sources appreciate you being prepared.

  • Interview. Be prepared with questions.

  • Observe. Be curious. Take notes. What you observe will help provide telling details in your story.

Good reporting

Good reporting

  • Reporting is critical to storytelling. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you haven’t done the reporting, you’ll have a substandard story.

  • It’s always better to have more --information, facts, observations, comments – than less.

  • Don’t settle for a so-so source. Keep looking. Be diligent.

Good reporting1

Good reporting

  • Be thorough.

  • Look for telling details or specifics that will enliven your stories.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask difficult or uncomfortable questions.

With all sources

With all sources:

  • Be empathetic.

  • Listen.

  • Check your ego at the door.

Be empathetic

Be empathetic

  • Try to think like your source.

  • Put yourself in his or her shoes.

  • Be genuine – earn their trust.

  • Put them at ease.



  • Having a clear focus is helpful to keep you on track in reporting and in writing.

  • Make a habit of stepping back periodically in the reporting process and determine your next step. Does the focus need to change?

  • Al Tompkins on story focus.

  • Writing down the focus.

Other reporting tips

Other reporting tips

  • Avoid e-mail interviews. Why?

    • Face-to-face interview. The best. You can observe the person and pick up on non-verbal cues.

    • Phone interview. Second best. Can ask follow-up questions. Get spontaneous responses.

    • E-mail. The worst alternative. Get canned responses. Can’t easily ask follow up questions.

Other reporting tips1

Other reporting tips

  • Be flexible – know that the story focus may change as you do your reporting. Stay in touch with your editor to let him/her know.

  • Be organized. Use bookmarking apps for online research; organize your notes, etc.

Good reporting tight writing

Good reporting; tight writing

  • New York Times’ Portraits of Grief

Great writing

Great Writing

Some tricks of the trade to make your stories sing.

The art of story development

  • Better Writing in Five Easy Steps

  • Use strong verbs

  • Write concisely and precisely

  • Avoid clichés at all costs

  • Show, don’t tell

What is a strong verb

What is a Strong Verb?

  • A single word that contains the meaning of an entire group of words.

  • “I was running.”

  • “I was sprinting.”

  • In the second sentence, you learn how I was running. The word “sprint” means “to run at top speed for a brief moment.”

  • So you get all the meaning of the verb “run,” plus the additional meaning that explains how I was running.

Using strong verbs

Using Strong Verbs

  • Just like adjectives and adverbs, verbs can be descriptive

  • The strong verb will be very specific and give your reader a clearer idea of your meaning.

  • Someone screaming, "I'm not going to do it!" is a lot different from someone mumbling, "I'm not going to do it." 

Vibrant strong verbs

Vibrant, Strong Verbs











Tom struck the robber.

Tom hit the robber.

Tom punched the robber.

Can you create strong verbs

Can You Create Strong Verbs?

  • Talk

  • Whisper, chatter, mutter

  • Yell

  • Shriek, scream, bellow

  • Jump

  • Leap, hop, bound

  • See

  • Peer, spy, witness

  • Laugh

  • Chuckle, snicker, giggle

The art of story development

  • Mighty Mark McGwire stood over home plate. In the grip of his thick hands, the bat looked like a twig. He looked at the pitcher. The pitcher threw the ball a little low. Bam! McGwire hit the ball with all his 250 pounds. He ran toward first base. He watched the ball fly 458 feet, over the left center field fence. "It’s a home run," said the umpire. The crowd stood up and clapped as he went toward home.

Avoid intensifiers

Avoid Intensifiers

Avoid these overused intensifiers: Very, Really, Truly, So, Completely, Totally, Positively, Perfectly

They add “bulk” to your writing and keep you from using a more precise, descriptive word.

  • Re-write for conciseness, preciseness and description. For example:

  • very hungryfamished

  • really tiredexhausted

  • perfectly happycontent

  • so sillyridiculous

Avoid clich d expressions

Avoid clichéd expressions

  • The kiss was as sweet as honey.

  • I am as busy as a bee.

  • That picture stands out like a sore thumb.

Show don t tell

Show Don’t Tell

Some examples

Some Examples . . .

  • Telling:The pizza was delicious.

  • Showing: Steam rising up off the melted cheese made my mouth water. The first bite, my teeth sinking into the cheese through the tomato sauce and into the moist crust, made me chew and swallow rapidly. Even the cheese and tomato sauce, sticking to my fingertips, begged to be licked.

The art of story development

  • Telling:He is angry.

  • Showing: Sitting at his desk, his jaw tightened. His eyes flashed heat waves at me. The words erupted from his mouth, "I want to talk to you after class." The final hiss in his voice warned me about his feelings.

The art of story development

  • Showing involves more than a long list of adjectives.

  • The point of "showing" is not to drown the reader in a sea of details. Instead, you should select those details that are the most meaningful.

The art of story development

  • After supper my father says, “Want to go down and see if the lake’s still there?” We leave my mother sewing under the dining room light, making clothes for me against the opening of school. She has ripped up for this purpose an old suit and an old plaid wool dress of hers . . . We leave my brother in bed in the little screened porch . . . and sometimes he kneels on his bed and presses his face against the screen and calls mournfully, “Bring me an ice cream cone!” but I call back, “You will be asleep.”

  • -- From “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” by Alice Munro

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