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Planning Retirement Online

Writer's Block: Covering real events

There are many different types of article, but a popular approach is to base it around a personal anecdote or story. This could cover a wide range of topics from a holiday, hotel or restaurant review to coping with a crisis or ill-health, bringing up children or developing new skills. What they all have in common is that they will be based around events that have actually happened.

Dealing with real events is an important part of becoming a professional writer, as is getting the introduction right. Everyone wants their articles to be read, so getting the introduction right is vital. The point of an introduction is to set up the article. Yet many novice writers have their work rejected because those first few sentences simply don't do the job.

Here are a few tips on avoiding the major pitfalls when you write up real events:

  1. Just because an event happened or a particular person was involved, doesn't mean it has to go into the article. For example, holidays involve packing - but unless it is part of the story, do you have to tell readers exactly what went into your suitcase? And the fact that you went with your husband, mother-in-law and small dog may, or may not, be relevant. If it isn't - think carefully about including it in the piece.

  2. Naming people is a sure way to give them importance. But if they are mentioned once and then ignored, readers will feel cheated that a "character" they expected to find out more about has gone missing. To play down someone's role if you feel they need at least a mention, never name them but refer to them generically e.g. "my wife noticed…, " "the guard…" or "his friend. …"

  3. Time should be flexible. Chronology - taking people from the start to the end of an event accurately according to the time sequence - can kill off a feature if it means that the start is all about the mundane such as getting to the airport, parking, catching the bus or finding the ticket office. Instead, think about the role of those first few minutes or hours and only mention them if they add to your story and help make your point. You can use flash-backs later, (yes, this is allowed in non-fiction as well as fiction) if you must go back to those first moments, but never start an article with dull facts, and always consider their role in your material.

  4. Set up your article with one of the three most common introductory tricks:
    a). Ask a question - this is posed at the start, and then the article must answer it later. For example: "Do you regularly write to newspapers and magazines but never see your letters in print?" This introduced an article on how to get readers' letters published.
    b). Make a statement or observation - you can be controversial if you want to get readers going, or simply state a fact that will indicate what the article is going to be about. For example: "Next time you watch a boat going through a lock, check who is heaving the gates shut or straining to wind up the paddles. My bet is that, most times it will be a woman." The article was about how to give women confidence to take narrow boats through canal locks.
    c). Offer a scenario or description - this needs to be short (there is nothing worse than a rambling tale that never gets anywhere) and must be relevant to the coverage you will be offering in your article. E.g. "On a bright sunny Friday morning, we sped up the M40 en route to OwnerShips Open Day at Stockton Top near Rugby," was the start of an article about buying a boat.

As a writer, ask yourself the question: what is my article really about? before you start writing, and you can then check that anything that is included and the order you cover them make the most of your material and get your message across best.

If you have any writing queries, please send them to jackie@laterlife.com.

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