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300 word stories


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300 word stories

  1. 1. Rethinking Our Writing Tell More Compelling Stories and Write Less Articles
  2. 2. Words Are an Investment Every word should be strategically placed and thought out
  3. 3. 300 Word Stories Our goal for story telling
  4. 4. Brady Dennis Brady Dennis was a night cops reporter in the Tampa bureau of Poynter’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times when he started writing “300 Words,” a series of short stories about ordinary people, in 2004.
  5. 5. Brady Dennis I first dreamed up “300 Words” while working as a night cops reporter in Tampa. For starters, I wanted a project that offered a break from the usual murder and mayhem that I typically covered (and enjoyed covering). But more importantly, I wanted to take a chance and offer something in the metro section that readers weren’t used to seeing, something different that would make them slow down and take a breath and view the people they passed each day a little differently. I knew I wanted the pieces to be short and to highlight people that otherwise never would make the newspaper. Luckily, I [worked with] a photographer who shared this vision and a brave editor willing to try new approaches and fend off the skeptics.
  6. 6. Brady Dennis The easiest thing was my complete confidence in the people we would find. I believe that each person not only has a story to tell, but that each person has a story that matters. I’ve always felt humbled in the presence of everyday, “ordinary” people who are willing to share their lives with us. Give me them any day over politicians and celebrities.
  7. 7. Brady Dennis The hardest thing, I suppose, was finding a theme in each piece that was universal — love, loss, death, change, new beginnings. Something everyone could relate to on a human level. I didn’t think it was enough to say, “Look, here’s an interesting person.” I wanted to capture that person in a moment when readers could say, “I understand. I’ve been there.”
  8. 8. Brady Dennis “300 Words” made me a better reporter by forcing me to rely primarily on observation. Notice that most pieces contain almost no quotes. I didn’t interview people as much as I simply shut my mouth and watched and listened. We don’t do that enough. It also made me a more economical writer. With only 300 words to spare, each word had to matter. I’ve tried to apply that rule to the other stories I do, even the long ones. The idea is to cut away the fat and leave only the muscle. “Less is more:” It’s true for most stories we write.
  9. 9. What do we change? • Focus on a story. A universal theme. • Don’t interview. Observe. • Find the thing about the person everyone can connect to. • Quotes define the person to the core. • Short is better. Web readers don’t want long. Neither do yearbook readers. • Observe. Listen. Write. Edit. Write.
  10. 10. What does this mean for me? • 3C story a six weeks • CCC=300 in roman numerals • Concise. Core. Compelling. • Not a maestro project • Top three each six-weeks wins gift cards • Can be written or in video form
  11. 11. Samples • Look for the personal connection • Look at the word choice • Look at the quote – Does it define the person? • Look for the theme
  12. 12. After the Sky Fell Tampa Bay Times photo: Chris Zuppa The loneliness of the overnight shift at a Suncoast Parkway toll booth: Lloyd Blair, 71, sits back and waits for the next driver to come by his station.
  13. 13. After the Sky Fell The few drivers on this dark, lonely stretch of the Suncoast Parkway in Pasco County pull up to the toll booth, hand their dollars to Lloyd Blair and then speed away. None of them knows why the old man sits here, night after night, working the graveyard shift. Well, here's why: Because years ago, on a freezing winter night at a party in Queens, N.Y., he met a woman named Millie. Because he fell in love with her brown hair and wide eyes and 100-watt smile. Because they got married, moved to Staten Island, had a son and worked for decades in Manhattan; she as an accountant, he as a banker. Because it had been their dream to retire to Florida, and so they saved all their lives to make it possible. Because, just as they began to talk of leaving New York and heading south, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and they spent their time and money traveling to New Jersey, San Diego and Mexico in search of a cure.
  14. 14. Because, in the end, they came to Florida anyway. Because they finally bought a house in Spring Hill, although she was too weak that day to get out of the car. Because she died nine days later on Jan. 5, 2002, a day "the whole sky fell," he says. Because, after she was gone, he found himself alone and $100,000 in debt. And so he took a job collecting tolls. The drivers who pass by see a smiling 71-year-old man with blue eyes and a gray mustache who tells each of them, "Have a great night!" They don't know the rest of Lloyd Blair's story, or that he keeps Millie's picture in his shirt pocket, just under his name tag, just over his heart. After the Sky Fell
  15. 15. One Hour At A Time [Times photo: Chris Zuppa] Thomas Herold kisses his daughter Cheyenne through the glass at the Orient Road Jail in Tampa on Wednesday. His mother, Janet, watches.
  16. 16. One Hour At A Time He missed Cheyenne's first steps. Missed her first Thanksgiving. First Christmas. First tooth. Just the other day, he missed her learning how to slurp spaghetti. He hasn't held her in six months, hasn't watched her play with her favorite toy shopping cart. He hasn't heard her cry in the middle of the night or giggle in her crib beside the bed he shared with his wife, Cheyenne's mother. "I've missed everything," he says. He has measured his daughter's life in hourlong visits, twice a week. They meet in this drab concrete block room, separated always by a thick sheet of glass. She usually wears pink; he always wears orange. Looking at her feels like looking through the window at a pot of gold, he says. Beautiful and priceless, but always out of reach.
  17. 17. One Hour At A Time Thomas Herold, 29, has only himself to blame. He has tangled with the law for years - burglary, marijuana, weapons charges. In October, a year after a massive raid in Pasco County, he was convicted in federal court of conspiring to distribute cocaine. The world will forever know him as a criminal. But when Cheyenne looks through the window, she sees the man who makes her laugh with his funny faces. She sees the man who presses his lips against the glass, trying in vain to kiss hers. This morning, at 8:30, the father will stand before a judge and learn his fate. At best, he thinks, he'll get 10 years in prison. At worse, he could get life. Either way, he'll wake up three weeks from now in some distant federal penitentiary, far from home and far from Cheyenne's deep brown eyes. It will be March 31. Her first birthday.
  18. 18. The Man in the Mirror [Times photo: Chris Zuppa] The big night: Rick Waddell, left, shares "a classic moment" with his son Josh King. Little brother, Allen Waddell, watches.
  19. 19. He's standing there in front of the mirror, dressed in more pink than he's ever worn in his life. He's 17, a senior at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg. Josh King can't stop staring into that mirror. The seconds pass. He poses. He pauses. The boy stares out at the man. The man stares back at the boy. And there they are. The man in him paid for this tuxedo - pink shirt, pink socks, pink shoes - with the money he earned mowing lawns. The man paid for his haircut and the tickets to tonight's prom. The man is paying for dinner. The man in him helps look after his younger brothers. The man will graduate later this month and yearns to escape Florida. He's the one who will head to college in Virginia. He's the one who will study business, then find a job, find a wife, find his way in the world. The Man in the Mirror
  20. 20. And then there is the boy in Josh King. He's the one who still has baseball trophies on his dresser and a Porsche poster on his wall. He's the one who feels nervous tonight, the one who will feel a shiver creep down his neck when he picks up his date - a girl he thought was out of his league. The boy in him will forget to open the car door for her. He will play his music too loud and be too shy to say much during dinner. The boy in him still doesn't know how to tie a tie. So his father shows him. And as the father slips the tie from his neck and puts it on his son's, he smiles and says, "This is a classic moment." They both look at the mirror, knowing how soon the boy will disappear. The Man in The Mirror
  21. 21. Brady Dennis One thing I would offer is my opinion that, now, more than ever, we should be willing to take risks and make reading the paper an unpredictable and interesting exercise. “300 Words” was an effort at that. But there are a million other possibilities, and journalists are pretty bright folks. All it takes is the willingness to risk something new.
  22. 22. Steve Hartman A reporter for CBS News, Hartman wanted to tell the stories never told on the nightly news cast. He wanted to prove that “Everyone Has A Story.”
  23. 23. What About Boring People Without A Story to Tell?
  24. 24. Notice The Ending Themed Tag Line
  25. 25. Your Name What story will you tell? Will it make your reader laugh, cry, think, want? Will the story be something you’re proud of and will want to show off?