by Emma O’Shea
Inside Eau Claire’s L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, as a storm raged outside, a captive audience listened to Jason Smith speak about how to pull readers in and think outside the box as a writer. As editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine and associate director of Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Jason gave craft talk attendees a few tools to hone the skill of writing a good story and getting published.
Use the barstool approach when pitching to a magazine or publisher. This is a quick pitch that captures the interest of the reader. It reveals the “why” of the story and concludes with a proposed outcome while relating an individual story to a larger cultural climate.
Pay attention to the outcome of the story. What do you want the reader to come out with? The reader could make an informed decision about the piece, feel inclined to engage, or take action and tell others.
When trying to get published, look at the values and content of the magazine. Research what they publish and think about how your contribution could add to their publication.
In the process of going from pitch to paper, incorporate any feedback you received while giving your pitch and build an outline around the theme versus telling the story chronologically. You want to reflect a humanness of the subject and show the reader what is happening.
A good lead is made up of surprising facts, compelling quotes, declarative statements, and endearing anecdotes. As Jason puts it, a bad lead is like a poppy seed stuck in the speaker’s teeth; it’s distracting and leaves the reader only thinking about the lead.
Elements of a great piece include no more than three sections of the main narrative and smooth transitions between sections. You also should have clearly articulated themes and a conversational tone that keeps the reader going.
When crafting your piece, it’s best to avoid using dead-end details, meaningless idiomatic phrases and prepositional phrases that lose the interest of the reader and dilute the story that you are trying to tell.
Work with your inner-editor-self and go over your piece! Check your facts and read your writing aloud to make sure your piece is error free.
When looking for help, look local, take it online or get some help via editors or published writers who can give you the insight that you need.
To see more of Jason’s tips on how to write a compelling story, here is the PowerPoint from his talk: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1069zoh9w5u6l5r/Smith_Storytelling%20Talk.pdf?dl=0