‘From Tina Turner to Taylor Swift’
When Ian Jones needed to craft a — yawn! — diversity story for employees at Columbia Gas of Virginia, his first instinct was to go with a fact pack.
You can see Ian’s natural creativity peeking through with the concrete details in the headline and — buried deep but still breathing — in the lead.
But by the end of a recent Catch Your Readers Master Class, Ian had totally rewritten his piece from an inverted pyramid to a feature story. That basic structure lets the concrete details rise to the top.
Here’s his before and after:
Like (too) many of us, Ian was taught to cram all of the facts into the lead, so readers would get the key details before they stop reading after the first paragraph. Here’s how his opening paragraph looked:
You can see the problem with that: a lead that is so thick that most readers will stop reading before the first paragraph. Plus, Ian’s delightful concrete details get smothered in all of the not-so-interesting facts.
Instead of a fact pack, write a lead that draws readers in with a concrete detail or three. Don’t tell the whole story in the lead — that’s what the whole story is for — but write a lead paragraph that entices people to read the second paragraph.
Here’s how Ian handled that in his rewrite:
2. Nut graph
Inverted pyramids don’t have nut graphs, so neither did Ian’s original story.
When you don’t feel compelled to put all of the W’s in the lead, they need someplace to go. Ian moves them into the nut paragraph:
At 57 words, that’s still a little thick. What can you do in 25 words or less?
3. Background section
No background in the original story. But in the rewrite, Ian provides context for the story — the reason the diversity initiative is so important:
In his first version, Ian emphasizes the event — what happened during the kickoff — in the body of his post:
In the second, he focuses on the impact: what the attendees learned that might be helpful to you, too:
Note also the crisp paragraphs in the final version compared to the 100-plus-word-long ones in the original.
The great thing about inverted pyramids is that you don’t have to craft a conclusion. When you’re finished, you just stop typing. That’s what Ian did in his original.
But the feature-style story structure demands an ending. In his revision, Ian summarizes the story in the wrapup, or the penultimate paragraph, topped as it should be with a subhead to separate the body from the ending:
Ian ends with bang and circles back to the top with a concrete details kicker that leaves a lasting impression:
Focus on the reader.
“Thinking about the reader from the start really changes everything — from story angle to story structure to sentence length,” Ian says. “Instead of approaching writing from the perspective of a writer, I now think about whether I’m writing a story I would want to read.’”