How you really write a story

As a writer it’s easy to take for granted that people who aren’t journalists understand what happens when you’re asked to write something. So here’s how it works.

A news organisation rings up and asks you to do a piece. Obviously you say yes so they’ll tell you how much they’ll pay you, how many words they want and when by. They’ll also give you an idea of the feel of the piece. So in the case of an opinion piece they might tell you they want something that’ll irritate people enough to make a comment.

Now’s the fun bit. You think about what you want to say and scope out a rough outline. Sometimes you can’t think of a way to start the story so you begin in the middle and wait for an introduction to come. Other times you know instantly how it’s going to start and everything then slots into place.

Easy, right? Well it would be if there weren’t two fairly significant constraints. First you have a deadline. In the case of the price of petrol story http://us.cnn.com/2012/02/28/opinion/opinion-european-gas-prices/index.html, I was asked to write it just before midday and the deadline was 3pm the same day.

Second, you only have a certain number of words. To make something readable you need to cover more than one point. So you can’t drill into any single point in any great detail. The result is you cover a handful of points but none in too much depth. And time constraints generally mean you research and offer only the facts that back up your argument.

These aren’t excuses, they’re simply the rules of the game. And they result, hopefully, in a story that provokes thought and gives people plenty of scope to add their own opinion.

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About James Foxall

My 25-year career has been built on writing words that audiences want to read. Those words have been clear, concise, and imbued with the personality of the organisation they were shaped for. They’ve appeared in specialist magazines and national newspapers as well as marketing materials for commercial organisations. I was motoring editor at the News of the World for seven years and I still write a regular column for the Daily Telegraph. More recently as companies become publishers I’ve transferred my editorial skills to commercial organisations. My entire career has been in the automotive industry; my passion for effective communication is still rivalled only by my love of cars and motor sport. View all posts by James Foxall

2 responses to “How you really write a story

  • Russ Falconer

    America Stop Whining About Gas Prices?That’s it ? That’s your brilliant insight?You Old Worlders can go on paying high fuel prices and more luck to you.However, we in the Free World will continue “whining” until we crush the same Weenie Leftists who apparently browbeat you poor bastards into capitulating to their demand that you ration fuel. What you call whining is actually called here an assertion of individual rights, something you apparently have abdicated. Good luck with that.

  • John Nevill

    Russ, what you call an individual right the rest of the world calls arrogance and disregard for the planet. Americans ‘right’ to inefficient, gas-guzzling vehicles has led to economic and evironmental effects around the world. Notwithstanding that, you miss the point of James’ piece, that even with deadlines and word counts, a good piece needs to be provocative. A point excellently illustrated by your rant.

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