Become a social impact investor for as little as $50.
"Rahul Udebham's wife tells me about the morning before it all happened, when the loan shark came to claim payment of all the debts, how he paced like mad among the cotton plants screaming: 'If you don't pay, this land will be mine!'"
That opening in Graves of Cotton by Fernando Molina Cortés immediately grabs your attention, and leaves you asking questions and demanding more information.
Just like this piece by Tyler Riewer at charity: water: "It was an unseasonably warm summer night, and 14-year-old Grace was rushing down the narrow and secluded path from her village to Lake Victoria." Based on short summary text before the start of the story, you already know that Grace was assaulted. Now the author writes to draw you in to being on the village path.
You have three sentences or fewer to catch your reader's attention and convince them your story is worth reading before they move on to something else.
And catching people's attention has a lot to do with drawing them in with emotion. This was also something that was agreed on by all of our speakers at the recent NetSquared DC event I mentioned in my earlier post.
For example, check out this amazing video that tells the story of a volunteer at The Salvation Army by documentary filmmaker Vladimir Pcholkin.
People don't connect with other organizations; they connect with other people, Mr. Pcholkin said to our audience. And with this video, he connects you directly with this volunteer's powerful story.
Reading these opening sentences above or watching this video makes it look easy, but when it comes to writing it on paper, it can be tough. What has worked for me is often not sitting down to write until I have already written a story opening in my head.
However, other times you might start your story one way, and then find a more perfect beginning buried at bottom. It's perfectly normal if that happens; just take the new story opening and move it to the top and make any necessary adjustments.
Other times you really are unable to write an opening you're happy with. Whenever that happens, it probably means you haven't done enough reporting on your story. Talk to someone else or circle back with people and ask new questions. Keep digging, and you'll find a way to communicate your message.
After your opening paragraphs, you will need to provide your reader with some context, to show them why this story matters and how it affects them. Sometimes it's a good idea to state some facts and figures here to help the reader understand this.
Scroll through the first few paragraphs of these excellent stories:
Each reporter has a specific reason for every fact they have included. You need to think about it the same way when writing your story.
It can be easy to get distracted with all the information that you know, or all the information that you think is important. Melissa Rogers, supervising producer at Stone Soup Films, echoed the same thought at our NetSquared DC event. Everybody always wants to tell everything, but you need to stay focused, she said.
The best way to do this is to pick one topic for the story, and keep all the other information not directly related at the bottom of your current document or even in a separate file. If it comes out when you're writing, copy and paste it in another document. You can always write another story on another topic with another goal.
Here are a couple of other tips for continuing to keep the reader engaged:
Who cares about the ending? Will anyone read that far? The short answer is almost everyone, and definitely. You hear everyone talk about movie endings, right? Yet, the endings of stories often get left until the writer is tired, or rushed because there's never enough time.
I hate to see a great story ruined by an ending that falls flat. But the most important reason to have a great ending is because the people who make it to the end — and love the ending — are going to be your super fans. These "super fans" are your champions, or your biggest supporters, and they are the ones who will share your story.
When I say you want to have a great ending, I'm talking about how it's written, not necessarily the emotion it brings across. Great endings can evoke a range of different emotions.
Here are some tips I've either used or come across on story endings.
And here's my quote: "Crafted well, stories can have an amazing impact and can be part of a movement to effect change. Start crafting that story in your head now and see where it takes you."
This is part 2 of a series on storytelling. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.
Image: Bruce Guenter / CC BY
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
Close this window