Choose a suitable design and hold to it. A basicstructural design underlies every kind of writing.Writing, to be effective, must follow closely thethoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in theorder in which those thoughts occur. This calls fora scheme or procedure…planning must be adeliberate prelude to writing. The first principle ofcomposition, therefore, is to foresee ordetermine the shape of what is to come andpursue that shape. -- William Strunk, E.B. White, The Elements of Style
Artful and impeccable use of the language isless important in storytelling than you think. Awell-shaped idea, convincing illustration andinterpretation of it, and sound story structurecount for more. Lacking these, the writer whofollows all the instructions on fine-tuning his prosein all the book’s extant will produce a well-writtenfailure. -- William Blundell, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing
Perhaps the central step in the writing process,focus gives a story unity and coherence. Moststories should be about one thing. The writershould understand and capture the heart of thestory and offer it to the reader. Focus determineswhat to toss out as well as what to include. Manyproblems, especially disorganization, result whenstories lack focus. Writers and editors search forfocus by using a variety of tools; writing the lead,coming up with a headline, making a list of themost important points in the story, and developinga theme or point statement. -- Roy Peter Clark, Don Fry, Coaching Writers
The most important thing in the story is findingthe central idea. It’s the one thing to be given atopic, but you have to find the idea or the conceptwithin that topic. Once you have that idea orthread, all the other anecdotes, illustrationsand quotes are pearls that hang on thisthread. The thread may seem very humble, thepearls may seem very flashy, but it’s still thethread that makes the necklace. -- Thomas Boswell, Washington Post
By the way, when you’re telling these littlestories, here’s a good idea: Have a POINT! Itmakes it so much more interesting for thelistener. -- Neal Page (Steve Martin) to Del Griffith (John Candy), Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Five Stages of a StoryIdea Report Organize Draft Revise
TasksIDEA: Identify a central question or premise.REPORT: Gather enough information to answer thequestion or test the premise.ORGANIZE: Determine the point of the story, the centraltheme, and plan the story around that central focus.DRAFT: With plan in hand, write the story.REVISE: Revise for clarity and precision, guided by thecentral focus.
Developing ideasStory mapping: Map the story idea as a web. Lay outall aspects of the idea. Select the most important part ofthe “map” as the focus of the story and the reporting tocome.Central question: Identify the central question at theheart of your story idea. Then set out to answer thatquestion.Premise: Frame your idea as premise (rather than afact) and set out to prove or disprove the premise.Remain open-minded as the reporting progresses.
Developing ideasPoint of view: Write your topic or question in the middleof a circle. Around the circle list all the people with aconnection to the story. Decide which person’s point ofview might be the best way to report and tell the story.Reader questions: Ask five questions a reader wouldask about the topic. Set out to answer those fivequestions.Five whys: Ask “why” five times. Each “why” should takeyou deeper into the topic and closer to the centralquestion or central premise.
Organizing storiesStory mapping: Re-map the story with all theinformation accumulated through reporting. If using aspecific point of view, re-map the story with the selectedpoint of view at the center.Theme statement: In a sentence or two, express thecentral point of your story, the heart of your story. Thiscan be the answer to your central question or arestatement of the central premise. Use the themestatement to help determine what material stays in thestory, what is left out.
Organizing storiesJot outline: List key points in the order they will appearin the story. Consider story focus, length and packaging.Story forms: Select a story form that will help shape thestory. Consider inverted pyramid, block, wine glass orlayer cake forms.
Jot outlineNew state proficiency tests• Overview on why, schedule, problems• Why the new tests• Schedule; requirements for passing• Problems for schools to administer
1: LEAD / OVERVIEW 8”:• Across the country NCLB prompts what• Meanwhile in AZ – along with others – what happens• As result, AZ scores now show… and deadline to fix pushed back 4 years (preview chunk 2)• As a result AZ financial burden is what… who wins or loses re schools (preview chunk 4)• Arizona’s story is a tale of what (how/who did this)…(preview chunk 5)• And Arizona’s story shows how WHAT re NCLB nationally, and will play out with real people(preview chunk 3 and 5)2: SCORES• NCLB is all about accountability, which is scores and deadlines, with loss of $$ as the stick• AZ, like other states, was facing big failure rates and big costs as result of measuring stick• AZ, like others, changed the measuring stick by arguing what??• Along the way, they also changed the deadline for completing this diluted improvement3: TWO EXAMPLES• Two key examples of change in measuring stick4: FINANCIAL IMPACT• AZ, like other states, was looking at big $$ to meet NCLB criteria• New measurement means costs have dropped• New measurement shifts where money will go to narrow group schools5: A YEAR INTO NCLB LEAVES US WHERE• Across the country this process has played out. Good for states. How for people?• Examples of what this means at school/people level overall• Comment from people who pulled this off, as well as people affected
1: LEAD / OVERVIEW 8”:• Across the country NCLB prompts what• Meanwhile in AZ – along with others – what happens• As result, AZ scores now show… and deadline to fixpushed back 4 years (preview chunk 2)• As a result AZ financial burden is what… who wins orloses re schools (preview chunk 4)• Arizona’s story is a tale of what (how/who did this)…(preview chunk 5)• And Arizona’s story shows how WHAT re NCLBnationally, and will play out with real people (previewchunk 3 and 5)
2: SCORES• NCLB is all about accountability, which is scores anddeadlines, with loss of $$ as the stick• AZ, like other states, was facing big failure rates andbig costs as result of measuring stick• AZ, like others, changed the measuring stick by arguingwhat??• Along the way, they also changed the deadline forcompleting this diluted improvement