Developing the Nugget
Written by Idea File Staff
Do not settle for the first draft. The best stories evolve from the search for the right angle and fearless rewriting. The article, Swapping Fool’s Gold for Real Gold , in the Spring 2004 issue of Idea File, Volume 14, issue 3, discussed getting writers to find the most interesting aspect of the story they are covering – known as the nugget. It’s the nugget that makes the story about the same topic unique from year to year.
In the article, writer Kristin Pitts gave examples of the early struggles of two writers and their finished product. In the Idea File issue, excerpts from the stories were published. Here are the finished stories in their entirety.
In an early version of the story on the drill team, the writer explained how the drill team was like a family, with sentences like these:
The marching band and drill team competed many times during the fall semester.
“We had a lot of fun and really bonded as a team,” Tiffany Tanner, senior, said.
“I get really nervous before we perform, but it helps to know that we are all in it together. Even though we made a few mistakes, we still got the highest ratings possible,” Betsey Baden, junior, said….
But after digging for the nugget, which appeared in the quote above in the form of the word “mistakes,” the following story, entitled Untimely Solo , emerged.
Smile. Don’t forget to smile.
Why are they all looking at me like that?
Am I ahead?
Am I too close to the trumpets?
Just don’t run into them…
Five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three.
One member of the varsity Cougar Classics counted in her head and began to dance. But as Kyla Pitts, junior, looked around, expecting the others to join her, they remained still, holding their poses.
She had lost count.
The early-morning rehearsals had been a waste. Somehow, she had gotten 16 beats ahead of her team. They had been working too hard for this. All of their practices at 7 a.m., and the weekends to get the dance steps and flag movements just right. They were showing off their hard work and she didn’t want to ruin it at the K-State Marching Festival.
“I thought to myself and realized that I could count, do this huge turn in front, and pretend nothing went wrong or else I could run back to my spot and let everyone know that I had messed up. Well, I chose the first option and I turned to the front and did this big solo part in the huge K-State stadium with a huge smile on my face,” Pitts said.
“I’m standing there on the sidelines watching their performance,” Mrs. Connie Lutz, drill team sponsor, said, “and I see, out of the corner of my eye, Kyla start to dance. I’m thinking ‘Well, what is she doing?’ And she’s leaping, and she’s turning, and she’s spinning, and her flag is going everywhere. I could see the kids around her and their shoulders are going up and down because they were laughing hysterically. What a perfect way to cover a mistake, though. I mean, that was probably the best save in our drill team history. What a way to get a solo!”
Pitts performed her unanticipated solo, followed by the scheduled show. Afterward, the group left the field and watched as the judges wrote critiques about their performance. They earned all I’s, the highest rating possible.
“Ms. [Penny] Snead, Mr. [Britt] Haney, Mrs. Lutz, and Mr. [Doug] Talley all liked my solo so much that it is officially in the show and they actually lengthened the solo,” Pitts said. The rest of the team supported Pitts’ solo effort. They were a family, and they were proud of their ‘sister.’
“She was the perfect person to do the solo,” Britany Butler, senior, said.
With a center stage performance, Pitts had danced her way into drill team history–and a solo part.
Another writer had been assigned the cross country story and, despite her efforts, simply could not understand how the meets worked. She then was assigned to go to the state meet and spend that time with an injured runner, who, since he was sitting out, could explain everything to her. This was her final story, entitled What If….
“Why does nobody know? It doesn’t take 15 minutes to count points! This is driving me mad! I hate this!” Jacob Brown, senior, said. The other six boys on the boys’ varsity cross country team lifted their eyes away from the ground to look at each other. Brown had expressed the feelings of the entire team and coaching staff.
In the same spot the girls’ cross country team had celebrated their first place finish just half an hour earlier, the boys’ team, each with the letters “NW” shaved in to the back of his head, stood silently after finishing their race. The boys’ eyes stayed fixed on the ground, never meeting the eyes of their teammates, coaches or fans. Parents and coaches stood a safe distance away from the runners. They whispered to each other, so the runners couldn’t hear. The parents were all thinking the same thing: had the team just broken a nine-year winning streak?
“Those two kids counted up the scores they got from watching the finish line. It doesn’t look like they won,” a parent with a photo button on her shirt displaying her “baby” murmured to another.
The boys continued to pace silently. Running his hand over his head, Robby Kampen, senior, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Several seconds later he let it out with a sigh.
What if? What if they didn’t win? What if they were the team responsible for stopping a nine-year winning streak? As anxiety increased, the boys started pacing faster. Two began hopping to rid themselves of excess energy caused by the stress.
“The adrenaline from the race is fading away. I’m really nervous now,” Kampen said.
Moments later, a man with three sheets of paper in one hand and a roll of tape in the other approached the board. He slowed as he neared, looking for a way to get quickly through the crowd.
“Get out of his way! Move! Watch out! He’s got the list!” shouted Kampen, Brown and their teammates. As the crowd backed up just enough to let the official through, but not far enough to lose their positions among each other, the lists were taped to the board.
First came the individual results. The runners merely glanced over them, just as something to look at until the team list was posted. After waiting 11 minutes that seemed like a lifetime, the list was up.
Before the tape was fully stuck to the board, a voice from the front cried out, “We won!” No one had to ask who “we” was. The whole Northwest team and their fans let out shouts of joy and relief.
One victorious fist shot up above the crowd, pointing straight at the sky. The boys celebrated together while the coaches and parents looked on. For the tenth year in a row, they had won the State Championship.