FEATURES AND OTHER STORY FORMS. Going beyond the news summary lead. FEATURES AND OTHER STORY FORMS.
FEATURES AND OTHER STORY FORMS
Going beyond the news summary lead
One key characteristic of the inverted pyramid structure is
the placement of events in a chronological sequence; note
that in the tear gas story and the wife abuse story that the
“what happened” portions of the story were delivered in a
Now, the story forms we are going to talk about today are not
necessarily devoid of chronological structure, but they often
dress it up in fancier clothes. They often make use of
foreshadowingand flashback, devices that are not found in the
inverted pyramid style.
When we step away from our chronological sequencing, we
have to be careful with transition between paragraphs. Give the
reader an easy road map.
The blind lede rules of the news summary style soften.
Since most news story paragraphs are only a sentence or two, a
story will often contain a series, or even multiple series, of related
News writers need to develop a good use of transition so that the
text flows smoothly from one idea to the next. When using direct
and indirect quotes, for instance, make sure it’s clear who is
There are a number of words and phrases that can be used as
transitional tools. We talked about these words earlier this
semester, but here’s a quick refresher:
EXPOSITION VS. NARRATION
The Associated Press now offers many stories with optional leads to the original inverted pyramid story first put on the wires. These optional, delayed lead approaches make those stories more compelling. However, for clients with tight news holes, the IP version that is often easier to trim may be the better alternative.
A man sits at a weathered table with only his friend Jack Daniels to fight away the loneliness. One last cigarette withers away in an ashtray. He picks up the .38 and puts a fat round in every chamber of the cylinder. His fingers caress the cold steel. After one final swallow of Jack, he puts the barrel in his mouth. (Scene painting and foreshadowing)
Then the writer might go into a chronological tale of how the man got to this point in his life (flashback). At the end of the story, the writer reveals what happened next (flash forward or tieback).
These can be in the lede or sprinkled about the story. You don’t have to use just one. You can move your story along by these devices:
Let’s look a little closer at these narrative devices:
VIVID SCENES or SCENE-PAINTING
Here’s a basic scene. (One setting, no characters, a single elemental change)
In the heart of the command center, a single wire, stiff and brittle from ten thousand cycles of heating and cooling, snapped away from its circuit board. The break set off an alarm -- a tiny pulse of electricity that raced through the wires to a monitored board at a control panel half a mile away. The pulse reached its destination, a tiny light that should have come to brilliant red life. But the light -- never used, infrequently tested -- failed to switch on. Those two tiny failures -- broken circuit; burned-out bulb -- would have unimaginable consequences.
From “Scene-Creation Workshop -- Writing Scenes that Move Your Story Forward” by Holly Lisle, available at www.hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/scene-workshop.html
Remember the police union strike threat from the Alvin story? Maybe it went down like this. Note how the quotes and scene-painting work together to capture the tension:
John Smith, head of the Alvin Police Patrolmen’s Union, stood to confront the council, his fingers turning white as he gripped the lectern and unsheathed his anger over the rejection of the pay raise. “You are turning your backs on a lot of folks that have families to support. If you do this,” he said, taking aim with his finger at each member of the council, “If you do this, I will urge our membership to strike. And I think the other city workers will come with us.”
Mayor J.D. “Squatty” Billingham lifted his eyeglasses to rest upon his thinning hair and met the challenge with a measured tone. “Mr. Smith. You are free to do as you wish. As for us, we will vote in the best interests of the city.”
John Herrndobbler began his patrol of West Beach as he
always did, checking his equipment and putting on his steel
pot. He cleaned the lenses on his binoculars and stared out
into the moonlit waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Occasionally,
fish fleeing the chase broke the water and went briefly
airborne. But Herrndobbler’s focus was on a different sort
of predator – German submarines. And, this night, Aug. 5,
1943, Herrndobbler – the lone guardian of Galveston
Beach – spotted a periscope.
MINARI VILLAGE, IRAQ — Staff Sgt. Iron quakes with fear at the sound of
explosions. He brawls with other soldiers. He whines when he doesn't get his
way and slows others down when he stops to relieve himself during patrols
through hostile territory.
But nobody complains, because when it's time to enter a building that might be
rigged to explode, or cross a pasture that could conceal a minefield, Iron is at
the front of the line, making sure it's safe for those who follow.
If it's not, Iron will bear the brunt of the blast, along with his best friend, Sgt.
Joshua T. Rose, who ranks one level below him. It's an honor Iron enjoys for
the dangerous job he does. It also ensures that charges could be filed against
Rose in the unlikely event he ever mistreated Iron — an 80-pound German
(nut graf; note how story goes from specific example to the general “theme”)
Rose and Iron are one of about 200 canine teams deployed in Iraq, where the
bond between soldiers and their dogs is so deep that some handlers have
asked to be buried with their canine partners if they are killed together.
It began as a lark, a dare actually. It was a friendly challenge, fueled by perhaps by one too many strawberry margaritas. Julie Jones had just gotten a camera phone that morning and was showing it off to her friends. Then the gauntlet was dropped. “Hey Julie, I dare you to take off your clothes,” said a leering friend, pointing the phone toward her. Jones laughed, but the dare didn’t go away that easily. Soon, her modesty and her clothes were on the floor.
It was supposed to have been a joke between friends. But what happened next left no one smiling.
BEYOND THE INVERTED PYRAMID
Let’s leave the inverted pyramid for a moment and look at some other story form geometry to see how narratives can be combined with the inverted pyramid style.
(Often more like a bowling pin)
For more on this style, read THE HOURGLASS: Serving the News, Serving the Reader by Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute
THE NUT GRAPH
ALSO CALLED THE FOCUS STORY
The Wall Street Journal gave birth to as story form best known as the
"nut graph" story, although it is also identified as the "news feature" and
the "analytical feature." Supposedly it was the brainchild of a Journal
editor who had grown tired of time elements in ledes.
Some call it a “focus story.” By whatever name, this story form
generally includes anecdotal leads to snare the reader. The lede is
followed by alternating sections that amplify the story's nut graph
(thesis) and provide balance with any evidence that presents a counter-
thesis. But its chief hallmark is the use of a context section that
highlights a specific case with the general problem.
Newspapers and magazines often used this form to help emphasize
explanation over information and understanding over knowledge.
Online news sites also rely on this form.
For more, read the THE NUT GRAPH OR FOCUS STORY by Chip Scanlan
THE FOUR BOXES STORY
A specific type of “nut graph / focus” story
2. TRANSITION TOLARGER ISSUE
4. RETURN TO OPENING FOCUS
3. REPORT ON LARGER ISSUE
(This may be split into
two separate boxes In
the “five box” approach)
2. The next box, also a small one, contains your transition to the larger issue. This box begins with a sentence that acts as the turn, just as with the hourglass story. The turn -- something like “Smith is only one of thousands of Americans facing the same problem.” -- takes the reader to the theme sentence or nut graph. The nut graph defines what the rest of the story will be about.
3. The third box elaborates on the larger issues, giving its scope, the conflicts involved, the cast of characters, background etc. It will likely be the biggest of the boxes. Because of it’s size -- especially if there are lengthy sub-topics or two strong sides to an issue -- this box could be divided into two (hence the five-box name) for development. Whereas box No. 1 puts your creativity on display, box No. 3 lets your reporting take center stage. It is not necessarily chronological in form; in fact, using flashbacks or other references to the individual in box No. 1 can be a good technique.
4. This box is for the ending. Good stories should end, not just stop. Maybe you’ve saved a good quote, a bit of dialogue or another anecdote. One excellent device is the tieback, where you bring the character introduced in box No. 1 back for the closing curtain. The material in this box is one of the significant differences between focus structure and inverted pyramid -- you can’t just lop off from the end.
Too Young to Diet example
From Rick Bragg, Pulitzer winner with the New York Times:
1. The first box, the lead, contains the image or detail that draws people in the story. (“Call of Duty” gamer example)2. The second box is a "nut graph" that sums up the story. (hate speech)3. The third box begins with a new image or detail that resembles a lead and precedes the bulk of the narrative. (background set-up on “Call of Duty”)4. The fourth box contains material that is less compelling but rounds out the story. (how online played evolved, emergence of hate speech)5. The fifth, and last, box is the "kicker," an ending featuring a strong quote or image that leaves the reader with a strong emotion. (tieback to lead?)Fill the boxes with bulleted lists of information, quotes, statistics and you have an instant outline.
For more on this style, read THE FIVE BOXES APPROACH TO STORY WRITING by Chip Scanlan
THE SET UP
BEYOND THE INVERTED PYRAMID
The set-up has five elements:
HANDOUTS: The abduction story
Abduction story/ Chronicle version
Abduction story/ alternate version.
MORE WRITING TIPS
1. Gather information with all of your senses -- smells, sounds, sights. Touch and taste.
2. Don’t tell the readers that someone is funny; give an example of a prank or a humorous story. Don’t say someone was angry; show it by describing their expression or actions. Telling is story in outline; showing fills in the spaces between the lines.
3. Avoids cliches like the plague.
Figures of speech
1. Similes, comparisons using like or as, help explain the unknown by comparing it to the known. “Her rubbery legs wobbled like jelly.”
2. Metaphors, comparisons without like or as, equate one thing with another. “Jordan is a lion but with a gazelle’s legs.”
3. Allusions add value. “Nat King Cole was the Usher of his time.”
4. Personification breathes life into inanimate objects. “The windows of the old house were scornful eyes.”
For a listing of rhetorical devices, go to http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm
Good writing is coherent
1. Logical thinking produces logical story structures. If you don’t know where you are going, the reader won’t either. Consider constructing an outline before writing longer pieces.
2. Choose the proper sentence structure to show the relationship between among ideas. Compound sentences equate ideas. Complex sentences show cause and effect or sequencing.
3. Carefully construct transitions between paragraphs. Transitions are like road signs; they tell the reader where you are going.
Good writing is concrete
1. It begins with good reporting. Get those details.
2. Be specific. “Big” or “ugly” or “loud” mean something only in comparison to something else.
3. Avoid euphemisms. “Down-sizing” means people are losing their jobs.
Good writing is clear
1. Construct more short sentences than long sentences, more simple constructions than complicated constructions and favor strong verbs over forms of “to be.”
2. Know grammar as you would like a mechanic to know the parts of your car. Learn the vocabulary of grammar and how grammatical structures work together.
3. If you respect and follow the rules of punctuation, you will not embarrass yourself.
4. Learn to spell, or at least learn to use a dictionary.
Chronicle story on pitcher Roy Oswalt
The Halle Berry profile in Parade
ALTERNATE STORY FORM EXERCISE
Henry Forrest, algebra teacher, 57, was in his class teaching students how to reduce equations. He immediately recognized the odor as a form of tear gas. It burned his throat and nose, and he had to remove his reading glasses to dab his watering eyes with a handkerchief. He guided his coughing and gagging students out of the classroom and onto the school grounds. Some of his students were among the most seriously affected. He has taught at the school for 15 years and says this is first time something this serious has occurred. But he says this will not deter him from doing what he loves – teaching young people.
When Forrest was in high school, he lived in the Watts area of Los Angeles. He witnessed the infamous Watts riots, where racial unrest resulted in hundreds of people being injured or arrested and scores of buildings being burned. He did not participate in the riots but because he is black, he recalls receiving suspicious stares from L.A. police patrolling the area. During that time, he often smelled tear gas and smoke even while in his home.
Portland Fire Bureau officials will recommend to the mayor that Forrest receive a commendation or other form of recognition for his efforts.
Quotes from Forrest
"It gave me a flashback. It brought back a lot of old, bad memories," he said. "I remember the smell of tear gas, day after day. And the screams. Those screams don't go away. I heard those screams again today. It was a time I don't care to remember.“
"Why do kids do things like this? This ain't kid stuff. Don't they know that they are hurting people, people who may be their friends or teachers?" he said. "It's just stupidity. Plain stupidity. And when they get caught, their lives will never be the same.“
Quote from Don Mayer, Portland Fire Bureau
“Thanks to his quick thinking, a lot of kids were spared from being exposed to the brunt of the gas. He’s a hero in my book.”