Throwing it back
Stories can be brought to life by written words in ways that spoken words cannot. The aim of writing a story is to bring the reader back in time to understand why something is presently relevant.
An author strings together events and moments in time, but then provides context that allows the reader to know why those moments matter. It’s a fine line to write between showing the reader objectively as a journalist why moments matter compared to forcing an opinion. The best stories are able to pull anecdotes and moments that, when fully told at the right time in the story, can implicitly have its meaning derived.
Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star detailed to great extent the night that Kansas City’s baseball culture was revived — on the one-year anniversary of the Kansas City Royals’ first playoff win since 1985. McCullough led his story with a simple anecdote about a Royals executive looking at flights on his phone during the game, and within a few sentences the reader immediately knows the gravity of the situation and why such a seemingly mundane slice of time carried such weight.
McCullough was able to retell a story with an obvious ending by providing exceptional color detail of in-game moments, and even sprinkled his tweets from that night throughout the story to punctuate certain moments with his realtime analysis.
Brandon Finnegan roars as he comes off the mound. This dude pitched against Dartmouth earlier this season.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) October 1, 2014
Just talk to it
Speaking to a friend often lends itself to simple phrasing and a to-the-point mentality. It’s not usually a conscious thought or concerted effort because of the frequency that people speak to each other. Writing is simply documenting the spoken word, and should be done so in the same simple, to-the-point manner.
Jayson Stark of ESPN does an exemplary job of maintaining a friendly, yet defined voice throughout his pieces. A lede he wrote in a story recapping the top injuries of the baseball season sounds like a conversation had over the fence with a neighbor.
Here’s what we learned this season: It wasn’t safe to cross the street, take your kids to a lake, shower after a game, sleep on a sofa or even walk down the stairs. That’s what.
It’s compelling, slightly ambiguous and most importantly, comforting. A conversational and directive voice allows stories to transcend niche audiences they often only fit into. Stark’s elementary explanations of wacky injuries makes his story a desirable and easy read for the audience that has no interest in learning about baseball to understand the story.
Open your eyes
Visual components to complement stories are practically a requisite in today’s age of short attention spans. Tweets with images or videos get the most engagements just as stories with infographics or videos in-text attract readers without the patience to read.
A landmark piece of work by The New York Times titled Snow Fall was a pioneer in implementing pictures, video and interactive scrolling in a story. A screen-wide video of blowing snow with the title of the story overlaying it immediately catches the reader’s attention.
Video and pictures accompany the reader on its journey through the dense text, a journey that mostly likely won’t be made currently without visual guides.