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There are endless ways to write the news. The standard format that most newspapers use is called the "inverted pyramid" structure. Like a triangle balanced on its point, you offer up the biggest, broadest information first, and gradually introduce the details until you reach the end of the story. Almost any news story from your daily paper will give a good example of this style.
But as any newspaper reader knows, this style is not particularly captivating, and while it serves its purpose of conveying the news quickly, many WireTap stories follow more of a magazine style in our articles. Generally speaking, these articles use characters and scenes to tell the story, and are written in a more narrative and descriptive way than your usual newspaper article.
On a line by line basis, here are a few handy rules to follow:
1) Avoid the passive voice.
2) Your verbs carry your sentences, and strong verbs make strong writing. Consider this example:
- He was riding his bike very fast.
- He pedaled his bike furiously.
Not only is the second sentence tighter, it's more active and descriptive.
3) Shorter is always better. From the sentence to the paragraph to the page, if you can take a first draft of your story and cut it down by 25 percent (or more) by trimming wordy phrases ("An increasing number of students go right back into school immediately after receiving undergraduate degrees to develop their skills" becomes "Many students return to school immediately after graduating to develop their skills.") and using verbs to carry the weight, your story will have more impact and be easier to read.
4) Use lots of quotes, but paraphrase long quotes. A good story has a variety of different voices explaining the nuances of the topic. But don't let your sources tell the whole story: once you've gotten information from a source, you know it as well and you can paraphrase it more succinctly than the original quote. Save your sources' voices for emphasizing powerful points.
Finally, a useful essay that all writers should read is George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Although Orwell wrote it in 1946, many of his suggestions and warns are as necessary -- and unheeded -- today. Orwell writes:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
The Poynter Institute's "Writer's Toolbox" is a broad and deep collection of tips and tricks for writings all kinds of stories. These are required reading for writers of all kinds and all levels of experience:
The New York Times' tips on clear writing:
Make Every Word Count:
The Iceberg Theory of Writing:
The Principles of Composition:
The Process Approach to Newswriting:
"The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers About Their Craft" by Robert S. Boynton is a great book of interviews with veteran reporters about their techniques and inspirations.