How to find a story
Written by Kristen DeVore
Every good writer should be on the lookout for the best ways to tell a story. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in the right place, getting out of your comfort zone, and taking a few simple steps.
If you’re looking for someone or something to write about, ask around. Teachers and other students may know something interesting about someone else or about events that never crossed your mind. Talk to administrators, parents, office staff – everyone! Ask specific questions about events, experiences and passions. Focus on getting information about pivotal moments, unusual skills, challenges, triumphs and everyday life. Once you have a subject and angle, it’s time to get the details.
2. Be personal
The best stories aren’t about football practice, community service, rehearsals or studying for exams. They’re about the kid who joins the basketball team, only to spend the season on the bench. The girl who goes to Ukraine and comes back with an adopted brother. The boy who spends three hours a week listening to a Vietnam veteran’s war stories at the assisted living center. It might even mean joining the cross country team mid-season to get the inside scoop.
Going to the event, class or game you’re writing about is the only way to get a firsthand account. And going more than once doubles the information. And three times? Well, you get the point. Don’t rely on someone else to give you the details you should get on your own. Get out of your own sphere and join theirs. Ask questions in the moment. On the bus. Before the big game. After the only loss. You’ll get a lot more valuable facts by being a firsthand observer than by interviewing subjects three weeks after an event in a noisy yearbook room.
4. Shut Up
You heard me. Pay attention to your subjects. They will say a lot if you just listen. Observe their body language, and take good notes. Are they pausing between words? Are they nervous? Do they slouch a certain way? All of this information adds color to the story. Ask them relevant questions that will warrant more than a yes or no response. Don’t be afraid to let them lead you into a new direction. Some of the best stories are discovered during an interview, not before.
5. Write right away
Get a story down as soon as possible after the event or interview while the information is fresh. Don’t be afraid to go back and ask more questions. Everyone’s story is important, and it’s your job to treat it with respect. Tell it in a way that will put your reader in the moment. At the state championship football game. At the homecoming dance. At the pep rally.
6. Everyone has a story
Don’t forget it. The principal has one. The office lady who scowls at you for being tardy. The kid who sits in the back of biology and never says a peep. Even the basketball team that barely made it through their season with only one win. Everyone.