How to Make Your “Big Story” Work
1) Limit the range of your story. The risk of thinking too small is slight. Most try to make it too big and end with superficiality or enough for a book. Subject your story to cause and effect thinking and that is the first step toward limiting your territory.
2) The statement of "main theme" is crucial. Some good ideas can unravel because they aren't focused. Express your idea in no more than two tight written sentences. Example: "Parking at USF" vs. "Some USF students who own cars think say parking problems on and around campus are causing them to get low grades in classes at certain times of day."
3) As you develop your theme, you are concentrating on two things: what you should put it; what you should omit.
Dimensions of the story
4) Time -- the importance of past and future as well as present. If the past amplifies understanding, the future can give the story a flavor of suspense and anticipation (meaning if you can legitimately invite your sources to speculate, do so).
5) Variety of sources -- use your official sources but full credibility, plus gritty reality, comes from going to people directly involved.
6) Accept the fact you can't be objective because the act of deciding what to use and what not to use limits objectivity. But you can be fair. You can look for both sides. You can be guided by the evidence, not by your prejudices. Let the facts and the events govern your attitude.
Planning & execution
7) History -- a) does the issue you're discussing have roots in the past? what are they? b) is it a clear break with the past? 3) is a continuation of the past? d) can a few brief historical details give your story interest and credibility? (check out local media)
8) Scope -- how widespread, intense and various is what you're talking about? * can this be defined by a number or can it be defined by a comment or observation? * what is the physical range of the phenomenon? * diversity & intensity -- in how many different ways is the thing likely to show itself? * is the development waxing or waning, spreading or constricting?
9) Perspective -- do other developments have anything to do with this one? Even if you limit a story to campus, don't ignore the larger society.
10) Reasons it's happening now! a) economic -- always follow the money b) social -- are changes in morals, habits or family life likely to be affecting the story? how? c) political/legal: are changes in laws, regulations or taxes affecting the story? d) psychological -- do ego, vengeance, wish fulfillment serve as driving forces in the story? does personality of the major actor(s) play a part in it?
11) Impacts, the consequences of a development -- a) who or what is likely to be helped by what takes place? how? what is the scope of that help? b) who or what is likely to be hurt? how? scope? c) what is the emotional response of those helped or hurt; ask them how they feel about it, not just what they think about it. (This is the classic utilitarian question.)
12) Countermoves, the gathering of contrary forces -- a) who is likely to gripe the loudest? what are they saying? b) what actually is being done to offset, combat, change or deflect the impact of the phenomenon? scope? c) how is this effort working out? always give more weight to what is being done than being said; less talk, more action; fewer opinions, more facts
13) Futures, what could happen if the development is unchecked? a) are there formal studies or projections? b) what are the informal opinions of observers and actors; how do those actors on scene see their future? c) can the writer indicate what the future might hold, not flatly, of course, but as suggested by facts
SOURCES: a) wise men -- broad range of knowledge about the topic b) paper men -- paper documentation, work for entities that study and count things c) rabbi -- usually a knowledgeable person at or near the scene who gives a reporter helpful background and leads him to other sources (Handling Sources: initial questions broad and non-threatening designed to build trust; gradually get more specific and pointed but always treat sources as something more than data banks DON"T TALK TOO MUCH)
Yet another useful article on interviewing
Yet another useful article on interviewing
14) Organization -- a) tell the reader what you're up to; b) prove it; c) help the reader remember it
* always look for conclusions and possible endings such as: circling back, remind reader of story's central message, perhaps using material that wouldn't work as a factual proof but would provide a symbol, an emotional response or observation; looking ahead, waht might be useless speculation in the body of the story could provide an evocative close; sometimes a simple summary is enough
15) Indexing: remember the six-step story guide: 1. history 2. scope 3. reasons 4. impacts 5. countermoves 6. futures you could use these six numbers in your notebook (our pal Mr. Jon Franklin: just because you've done the outline, doesn't mean you have to use it
* keep related materials together, scope for example
* only exception is history, which can be spread throughout the story
* try to isolate material from one source in one place, that is all the attributed testimony of one person all the events linked to specific person or place
* important to start well but later order matters less
* two structural principles: time line in which the body of the story is simple chonology; theme line, which ignores time and emphasizes those two or three facets being concentrated on (can sometimes be mixed)
* you may digress -- but not for long (digressions include observationsm, explanations and points of instruction or analysis)