Writing a story starts with choosing the right angle or focus. An angle is a sharply defined aspect of a larger topic. It is your central point or main theme. It should be clearly defined and not general. It is a fresh twist that makes an old topic current and interesting. It is what sells the story.
I once worked under an editor who never got tired of reminding his writers not to “paint all over the place.” That was his way of telling writers to always pick the right story angle and write about it without dithering.
I was recently reminded of the need to pick a good angle during a Magazine Training International online course on how to write powerful stories. Anne Marie Winz, the instructor, asked participants to pick a topic, research on it, and write 150-300 words as our first assignment.
For the second assignment, she asked us to write three possible focus statements on the topics we wrote about the previous week.
“In one to three sentences,” she said. “Tell your readers what your story is really about. Be specific.”
I chose to write about the Fifa World Cup 2022 to be held from November 20 to December 18 in Qatar. When the time to write a full story came, I focused on the nightmare that awaits foreign fans because of restrictions on their freedoms by the Qatari government. That was my angle.
As Anne Marie kept reminding us during the live online sessions, you cannot tell everything. A lot will still be written about the same topic in the days, weeks, months and years to come. But each time, the story should be fresh and interesting. And that depends on the angle you choose.
What makes a good angle?
A good angle is usually the most newsworthy aspect of your story. It should appeal to majority of your readers and you must have enough facts to back it up. It is that little twist that makes someone want to read a story. Anne Marie described the search for an angle as “adding conflict to add interest.”
Before you start writing, summarize your story idea into a short focus statement to keep you from wandering or “painting all over the place.” A focus statement will help you know what to include in a story or what to leave out.
“Your focus statement acts as a referee,” said Anne Marie. “It determines the direction you take and gives the reader a promise.”
Before you even start researching for an article, you need to have a tentative angle so that you know what to look for. When you sit down to write, every piece of information you include should support the angle you have chosen.
Serve your readers
I recently edited a story that started by describing the exploits of four young energetic men prospecting for gold in a river bed. A few paragraphs later, the writer talked about how gold from rivers fetch good prices. Soon, it became a story about the “frustrations of educated youth who cannot secure white-collar jobs,” yet only one of them was briefly mentioned as a graduate. The rest of the story talked about safety in gold mines, and people dying or being buried alive in collapsed mine shafts while prospecting for gold. There were no statistics or quotes from authorities to support the claims.
When the editor who assigned me the story came around, I told him I didn’t understand what the story was about. Because of daily deadline pressures, we ran the story, but I felt we had done a disservice to our readers.
Without a good angle, you don’t have a story, and readers may feel cheated. Bland stories don’t sell a publication. If you want to sell more, publish stories with sharp and interesting angles.
by Francis Ayieko, The Shepherd
Photo by Mel Elías on Unsplash