Choose the Right Story Structure


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These are slides for a writing workshop for Oakland Voices.

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Choose the Right Story Structure

  1. 1. Choose the Right Story Structure Steve Buttry Oakland Voices August 29, 2012
  2. 2. Read more about it• (Make every word count)•• @stevebuttry•
  3. 3. Plan your story• Write as you plan, research• Consult w/ editor, colleague• Consider multiple structures• A structure is not a formula• Ask, answer: What’s this story about?
  4. 4. Driving question• Who?• What?• When?• Where?• Why?• How?
  5. 5. Driving question• Who? (Debbie Koppman, Carl Chan, Antoine Hunter, homicide victims)• What? (Code for Oakland)• When? (Lakeview School’s last day)• Where? (Health of the Hood, Fruitvale)• Why?• How? (How Chinese is Chinatown?)
  6. 6. Other driving questions• How much?• What happened?• So what?• What’s next?
  7. 7. Other driving questions• How much?• What happened?• So what?• What’s next?• Do you know anyone personally that has been shot?
  8. 8. Other driving questions•How much?•What happened?•So what?•What’s next?•Do you know anyone personally that has been shot?Verification: How do you know that?
  9. 9. Story elements• Plot• Character• Setting• Theme• Conflict/resolution• Action• Dialogue
  10. 10. Inverted pyramidImage from Wikipedia
  11. 11. Martini glass• Inverted pyramid top• Olive intrigues, starts narrative• Narrative• Strong endingImage from, term from Don Fry
  12. 12. Jack Hart’s narrative arcImage from
  13. 13. Other story structures• List • Audio w/ slides• Liveblog • Series• Tweet (or series of • Serial narrative tweets) • Sidebar• Video • Graphic• Q&A • Animation• Rick Bragg’s 5 boxes • Map
  14. 14. Structural elements, tools• Lead (lede)• Nut graf (promise)• Bullets• Subheads• Embeds• Links• Kicker
  15. 15. Make every word count• Readers/viewers are busy• Readers/viewers have many other options• Get to the point• If it’s long, tell me quickly why it’s worth my time• Is it useful? Compelling?
  16. 16. Set a brisk pace• Tight lead (does it fit in a tweet?)• Avoid suitcase lead• Challenge attribution, punctuation, numbers• Write alternative lead
  17. 17. Keep sharp focus• What’s the story about? (6-8 words)• Write a headline• How would you tell a friend?• 3 words (subject, action verb, object)• Write without notes• Keep end in sight, avoid detours
  18. 18. Challenge & polish• Weak phrases (there are, it is)• Passive verbs, weak verbs• Paraphrase weak quotes• Inflated words (utilize, purchase)• Challenge phrases, sentences• Watch for redundancy
  19. 19. Final tips• Read aloud• If you have time, set it aside & come back for a fresh read• Ask trusted colleague, friend to read• Ask again: What’s the story about?• Ask: Would this be worth your time?
  20. 20. Name that tune …