The Week 12 blog deadline has passed.
Right now I’m working on an article for my parenting column about kids’ photography (more specifically, having a good experience when you hire a pro to do a shoot with your kids). I’ve interviewed four photographers from three different photography studios that specialize in children’s photography, and they’ve provided a lot of good info for the story.
In the best-case scenario, I’ve learned that in a light, non-expose-type piece you want your sources to generally agree with one another and back up what the other is saying (without, of course, actually knowing what the others are saying). This prevents your story from feeling jumpy, with a He Said This But She Said That And Then The Other Guy Said Something Else sort of feel. This story is a service piece, and it needs to be useful, and readers can feel confused if you present lots of contradictory information.
That said, as the reporter/writer, you don’t have control over what your sources think and then tell you in an interview. And at the same time, if all of your sources say the same thing, the article can feel repetitive and boring. Some disagreement and contradiction is interesting and challenging! Finding balance in the material is important.
I always ask sources to share some personal or on-the-job anecdotes with me. People love reading stories, and these often work well as a lead in feature writing. Sometimes I don’t end up using them at all, but, at the very least, sharing anecdotes can make subjects feel less awkward and encourage them to open up. And if your piece does feel repetitive, these little tidbits can distinguish your sources from one another.
Another tip: A writing instructor at a conference I attended years ago once told us, “The story is in your head, not in your notes.” Don’t use your notes to write your first draft. (Yes, “first” implies that there will be subsequent drafts and revisions!) As writers, we need to really know the story and our subjects’ viewpoints, and that confidence needs to come through in our writing. Our notes — as important as they will be to make sure quotes and other elements are accurate and represented properly — can be a crutch. If you don’t have a good grasp on your story before you start writing, you need to get one.
Put away the notepad. Turn off the digital recorder. Pull up a fresh Word document and just start writing the story as best you can from what you’ve learned. Give yourself permission to just write the story. And then go back and add quotes, add and check facts and fix errors. That’s the easy part. Figuring out how the story should be told is much more difficult. That should come from within you, not from your notes.