Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Workshop Recap: Keep clutter out of your stories

This lead just won’t do: Ron Johnson talked about copy editing Tuesday afternoon.

Ron Johnson even said it won’t do, and he has taught editing and design classes at Kansas State University since 1989. Johnson gave the presentation “Big Picture Editing Techniques: The Nuts and Bolts of Weaving a Story Together” at the Spring Writing and Editing Workshop on May 15 in Overland Park, Kan. The Kansas City chapter of the American Society of Business Publication Editors organized the event held at the Brookridge Country Club.

Besides weak leads, Johnson gave suggestions on making transitions brief, providing just enough background information and avoiding paragraphs that say the same thing as the quotes that follow.

“Don’t make people hack through your verbiage to get to your cool stuff,” he said.

Johnson said writers may decide on a news lead and use the “who, what, when, where and how” of a story. However, he added, you do not need all five of those elements in the lead. You can select the most important ones for the first paragraph and add the other ones later.

Narrative leads, he said, can allow a writer to use one person’s perspective to illustrate the story’s big picture. Narrative leads tend to work better in longer stories, he said.

Stories in trade publications generally need adequate background information early on in the story, he said. Writers should try to summarize the information in a sentence or two.

Diversify sentence lengths and paragraph lengths throughout the story, he said. While reporting, writers should shop for a lead quote and a concluding quote. The lead quote can go high up in the story, like in the second or third paragraph.

And to finish? Johnson said, “The direct quote is about always the best way to end a story.”

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