50 ways to write a story

In Ideas by Peter Gearin

There is more than one way to craft a piece of writing. Please, go and create some music.

The problem is all inside your head, she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free …

Paul Simon wrote about 50 ways to leave your lover, but he could easily have been singing about writing. As a newspaper editor with a magazine background, I was often frustrated by how little imagination journalists showed when it came to writing news or feature stories. Yes, time pressures played a part, of course. As did the conservative nature of the titles (and the editors) they worked for. But some reporters just became gifted fact assemblers who too easily fell back on the classic and predictable “inverted pyramid” (who, what, why, where and when).

These journalists liked to call themselves “writers” but their methods were more aligned with builders or engineers. They preferred to build pyramids than compose music.

I think that writing – even for a news title or brand website – is a fundamentally creative pursuit. The style that writers adopt for each assignment should be fit for purpose. Writers, whether they’re novelists, reporters, brand journalists or bloggers, need to vary their style depending on what they have to say, who is saying it and what impact they want it to have.

Excellent writers should be prepared to reach into their creative toolkit full of various stylistic gadgets and widgets – each of them available in the right circumstances. Adaptable writers refuse to seek formulas, resist doing only what has worked before and shun automated solutions. They become accomplished by using their tools regularly.

I believe that writers who only wield the writing equivalent of a hammer start to see every story as a nail. If they smack it often enough, the nail ends up flat.

So, to help you in your struggle to be free of writing in the same fashion all of the time, I set myself the task of finding “50 ways to write a story”. How many of these styles do you have in your creative toolkit?

  1. Straight narrative … “He said/she said”
  2. Weighted narrative … Quoting people only to suit a perspective
  3. Opinionated narrative … Using quotes to ridicule or hold someone up to scrutiny
  4. News story … straight inverted pyramid
  5. “Court” story … fair report of what happened, quoting authority
  6. Q&A … questions answered by one person
  7. “Live” Q&A … questions answered by two people, “as it happened”
  8. Debate-style Q&A … questions answered by two people separately
  9. Multi Q&A … questions answered by more than two people
  10. FAQ … questions posed and answered by the writer
  11. Expert FAQ … questions posed and answered by an authority figure
  12. Panel FAQ … questions posed and answered by a range of experts
  13. First person “personal” … “What I felt”
  14. Second person “personal” … “What you felt”
  15. Third person “personal” … “What they felt”
  16. First person “impersonal” … “What I would have felt”
  17. Second person “impersonal” … “What you would have felt”
  18. Third person “impersonal” … “What they would have felt”
  19. First person narrative … “What I saw”
  20. Second person narrative … “What you saw”
  21. Third personal narrative … “What they saw”
  22. Case study led … one person’s story to illustrate a longer point
  23. “Duelling” case studies … comparing one person’s story with another’s
  24. Case study only … one person’s story only
  25. Fact box … using a series of facts to illustrate a point
  26. Fantasy/dream sequence … using fictional devices in a non-fiction environment
  27. Hyperbolic narrative … exaggerating for impact or humour
  28. First person satire/parody … writing in a style that lampoons someone else’s writing
  29. Second person satire/parody … lampooning what someone else would say in their own words
  30. Gonzo style . . . putting yourself in someone’s head by quoting their motives and feelings
  31. First person homage … writing in the style of someone you admire
  32. Second person homage … writing in the style of an admired person as if they said it
  33. Speech/presentation style … writing as if the story is being presented to a live audience (“Ladies and gentlemen…”)
  34. Narrator style … being an impartial observer of witnessed events
  35. News satire … using the inverted pyramid style for fictional events
  36. Naive/child speak … using a child’s voice for impact
  37. First person polemic … stating one person’s opinion
  38. Second person polemic … stating someone else’s opinion
  39. Third person polemic … stating everyone else’s opinion
  40. Mock trial singular … putting an interview subject up to scrutiny in a fictitious court
  41. Mock trial plural … putting more than one person or team up to scrutiny in a fictitious court
  42. First person explainer … An expert explaining what happened or what to do
  43. Third person explainer … An expert being quoted about what happened or what to do
  44. First person descriptive … “What I saw”
  45. Second person descriptive … “What you saw”
  46. Third person descriptive . . . “What they saw”
  47. First person historic . . . “What I would have seen”
  48. Second person historic … “What you would have seen”
  49. Third person historic … “What they would have seen”
  50. Song title … basing a whole story on the line of a book or song. [Ahem]

I’m sure you can think of other approaches, too. If so, please drop me a line in the comments below.

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