Many people – clients, business leaders and students – believe writing is easy. Since everyone can do it, it’s not a skill they must nurture or even one they should pay a professional to execute.
Journalist and author William Wheeler noted that “good writing is clear thinking made visible.” Writing well means critically analyzing data, putting it into understandable order and making a strong point. Good writing means having an interesting story to tell and telling it in a memorable way. What could be more important?
Telling Memorable Tales
If you are like me, you can recall long-ago stories that made a deep impression. Morley Safer did a “60 Minutes” segment many years ago that I still remember, not only because it was an unusual subject but because his storytelling melded with striking visuals. It was about Finland and its population’s inexplicable love affair with the tango.
Memorable stories do more than amuse, entertain and inform. They inspire us to action, prompt deep emotions and remain in our memories. Yet telling your story effectively is a challenge.
Lead With Your Best
Author Anne Lamott, whose insights about writing are as famous as her novels, noted that “all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” My best-laid plans for good storytelling can’t happen unless my lead is well-planned and arresting.
Some of the best story leads begin with a person’s experience and go on to tie that experience with the story’s main theme. Starting with contradictory or unusual facts will intrigue the reader to learn more.
A good lead makes writing the rest of the story easy, because it sets the tone and organizes the body and ending.
Building a Strong Body
As you write the body of your story, keep your key points in mind. Systematically break them down into digestible chunks that build upon one another. Close attention to story organization allows the story to flow easily. Using quotes from knowledgeable experts and research from reliable sources, underscore your points with examples and facts.
Weaving vivid images and arresting quotes into your writing makes it colorful but also gives credibility to your storytelling.
A colleague used to ghost-write many articles for clients. One of his best techniques was to tie the leads of his stories to the endings. When loose ends are tied up, the reader is left with the feeling of completion.
Summary endings can be effective, especially when there is a call to action. What I like to avoid when concluding a story is the temptation to tell the reader what is already apparent. Restating the obvious or drawing conclusions can seem condescending.
Once you have written a good lead and created a first draft, print your story and let it sit. When you come back to your draft, read it aloud to ensure that your sentences are the right length, phrasing flows well and extraneous details are omitted. Ensure that your main points are strongly stated.
It goes without saying that you should check every piece of writing with a spell-checker. Another way to make your writing brighter and tighter is to eliminate unnecessary words. Once your draft is final, try cutting 50 words – you may be surprised at how concise your new draft becomes.