Tag Archives: writing

How to Write an Article

Writing tips from the Ascentive team

The ability to write an article is one of the most important types of writing skills that a professional writer could possibly possess. After all, newspapers and blogs employ more writers than any other writing industry. If you’re a writer, then you need to learn how to write a newspaper article quickly. Here’s how:

The Topic

Exactly what are you going to write about? Brainstorm for ideas if necessary. When writing an article for a newspaper or blog, you may even wish to refer to requested topics for ideas from an editor. It shouldn’t matter that the same type of article had been written before or not, just think what you want to write.

The Headline

All good newspaper articles start off with a good headline that will entice the reader to follow up and read the whole article. Your title also might need to be shortened depending on what kind of space has been allotted for your article. For online magazines and publications, you should find an enticing title that will tell them about the key idea of your article, but mention that it contains a “surprise” or a “secret.” These two words drive more clicks than you can possibly imagine, and work very well for driving people to your articles.

The Body

For the body of the article, you need to find some good quotes from interviews. Nothing brings people in like quotes. It will make your article more personable and give it a human quality, plus it allows you to break the flow of facts. There should be no more than three sentences per paragraph. If you have more to add about a particular topic, you should revisit it after a relevant quote or at the end of the article. In a newspaper your article will be cramped into a corner and put in thin columns, so writing with short paragraphs will look more appealing and readable. Be sure to cover the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of your subject. Most news articles are between 200 and 500 words. However, newspapers typically quantify the amount of writing in terms of inches, so ask your editor how many inches he or she requires, and how many words that equates to approximately.

The Picture

Your article should always include a picture. A captivating picture will make or break your readability. Without a picture, your article looks dry and unimportant. Pictures also improve your search engine rankings.

The Blurb


Finish your article with a good one or two sentences introduction of that will interest the reader and give them an idea of what the article will be about that can be used as a blurb.

Photo Credit


When to Ignore What School Taught Us

I love the truism, “Rules were made to be broken.” Why? Because (tautology alert) it’s so darn true. And when it comes to writing prose, breaking the rules means challenging some of those quaint, rigid little dictums our English teachers drilled into our heads and then enforced with their nasty red pens. I find that when my writing is not jumping off the proverbial page, it’s fun to think back to all those draconian rules about good writing—and then blow them up and create my own.

Join me in my trip back to school, won’t you?

Teacher (imagine an extra-nasally voice): “Always write in complete sentences.”

Subject-verb, subject-verb, subject-verb is boring, boring, boring. Break out of the complete sentence habit and try to “stutter step” your prose a bit. What, you don’t think incomplete sentences can be dramatic and compelling?

Simply not true. (See?)

Incomplete, fragmented sentences contribute to sentence variety by giving you shorter, more impactful spikes amid longer sentences. And often, these type of sentences help to create a mood or help define a character. If you’re writing in first person or third-person limited, for example, using short and fragmented sentences can aid in a portrayal of a distressed or chaotic state of mind.

Pretty cool, huh?

Teacher: “Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence which introduces and summarizes the paragraph that follows.”

 

Again, boring! Ditch the school marm routine and consider leaving revelatory statements at the end of your paragraphs. I call these suspend paragraphs. Start out mysterious, vague, enigmatic, abstract, and then clobber your reader at the end with the truth. And when you think about it, it’s perfectly natural to leave the best bits for the end. Screenwriters know this: they use “suspend sentences” to increase the punch of their dialogue by leaving the most important part of a line at the end. “The butler murdered Mr. Smith behind the greenhouse!” is usually weaker than “Mr. Smith was murdered behind the greenhouse by the butler!”

Teacher: “Your paper must focus on one main point, and everything should be in support of that point.”

In fiction prose, organizing chapters or sections around single “main points” can be stifling. It can lead to a tedious kind of ask-and-answer, “paint by numbers” approach. Whether it’s exposition, characterization, subplots, local color, humor, or thematic material, find a way to chop up your material and sprinkle it throughout your book. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your reader! He or she does not have to be led by the hand. Add some variety, keep ’em guessing, and keep it interesting.

Have any other writing tips or things you think you can ignore from high school English? Please, share!

 Photo Credit


The Setup-Payoff Model of Storytelling

From the Ascentive writer’s corner:

Cartoon GunPlaywright Anton Chekhov had a favorite literary concept now known as “Chekhov’s Gun.” There are a few ways to state it, but essentially, if a gun appears prominently in the first act of the play, it had better play some role by the final act, or else the audience will feel cheated.

This concept could be described as foreshadowing, but really it boils down to a very basic architecture of storytelling, the setup-payoff model. And the more you’re around stories, the more you realize how very ingrained this architecture is and how many facets it has, particularly in the Western tradition. Hopefully we can generate a couple of fresh perspectives with the setup-payoff model that can help with your own storytelling.

In Chekhov’s case, the gun was “set up” in the first act. Well, what does that mean? A lot of setting up has to do with prominence, which is a wishy-washy term but is nonetheless useful to think about. If the gun was merely one small part of a living room’s production design, and it was not called attention to by any character, lighting technique, etc., then it was not set up properly (if there is indeed a payoff at the conclusion of the play where a character uses the gun to threaten violence).

So, part of setting up and paying off has to do with the literary real estate you give to an item, theme, character, etc. If in your story you are taking pains to describe a particular item, chances are you are building an expectation that that item will be paid off; that is, that the item will reappear in some important way that impacts your plot. When we talk about “plot holes” or “gaps” or “loose threads” in a narrative, we are almost always talking about either a) setups that were not properly paid off, or b) payoffs that were not properly set up. Using a little reverse logic, then, if a story contains proper setups and proper payoffs, in roughly equal weights, that story has captured the essence of satisfying storytelling.

And really, so much of the stories we tell in whatever medium can be reduced to this extremely simple but endlessly compelling relationship. It’s not just items, of course, but themes and characters themselves, either on a macro or micro level. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge’s transformation into a generous, happy man (the payoff) would not have nearly the power it does if most of the story wasn’t dedicated to depicting what a grouch and miser he was (the setup).

The lesson to take away from this model and from Chekhov’s Gun is two-fold. When you’re “stuck” in your writing, reduce your problem to a matter of setup and payoff. Chances are, the solution will present itself because the setup and payoff are so organically related (or at least should be). Secondly, Chekhov’s Gun is a lesson in the power of brevity. When you overwrite, you actually run the risk of upsetting the precarious balance between setup and payoff. Obeying the tradition of setups and payoffs will keep your prose lean and purposeful.

photo attribution:Gun Failing by Andorand


4 Reasons Why You Need a Table of Contents

Ascentive presents: Writer’s Corner with Bryan Keithley

Table Of ContentsIn the digital age, many self-publishing writers question the value of the good ol’ Table of Contents. Similar to doubts about the end-of-book index (which actually has experienced a steep decline with ebooks), the thinking is: Why bother? With digital bookmarking and keyword search functions, who uses the Table of Contents anymore?

Well, there are four very good reasons why your book should not only include a ToC, but should start with a ToC. And here’s why:

 

Ease of navigation – Even though there are keyword searches, older readers in particular prefer to navigate an ebook from the handy Table of Contents. Well-formatted ToC’s should include embedded links to the chapters/sections of the book, which make it even easier to reach a desired section. You want to give the reader more guideposts, not less, and a ToC provides a simple and logical “nexus” of guideposts.

Readers judge your book by your ToC – If you use a service like Amazon to sell books, the “Look Inside!” feature will often be used by readers trying to get a very quick “handle” on the book—that is, if they get past the description on the product page. So, you should take special care to develop a comprehensive ToC with catchy (yet descriptive) titles to draw skeptical readers in.

Agents and publishers judge your book by your ToC – Many authors use self-publishing as a springboard to conventional publishing, or they self-publish while also pursuing literary agents and publishers. In these cases, book proposals will always include a ToC (along with a sentence or two description of each section). These busy book executives may give your ToC a glance and decide whether your book has merit or not.

The ToC is a good guide for your own writing – At a basic level, chapters divide a book into manageable chunks—whether that division is in terms of plot, theme, food types for recipes, periods in history, or anything else. For beginning writers feeling an ebook is a daunting task, a ToC is a great way to “reverse engineer” your book. Break apart your subject into discrete sections you can handle, and your book will be that much easier to write.

What do you think? Any other essential tips for novice self-publishers? Fire away!


Don’t Be a Punctuation Punk

punk interrobangGood writers are committed to improving their craft. You really never stop learning how to write better, more clearly, and more concisely. And that’s why it’s sometimes nice to go back to the basics. You know, do a little soul searching, ask yourself the big questions. How about this one: What the heck is punctuation good for, anyway?

I’ll lay out my own little philosophy on punctuation—and feel free to disagree—but hopefully you might glean a nugget of wisdom or two for your own writing adventures. For me, punctuation is merely a shorthand to communicate the natural ebb and flow of the spoken word, and ultimately the thought process itself. Take our friend the period. He’s a good-sized pause, a meaty pause. A pause that announces, “Hey, I’m finished with that thought, and I might even hop to an entirely different thought.” Period’s younger brother, the comma, is a shorter pause, more like a stutter step. He’s more afraid than the period is of hopping to another train of thought; in fact, he’s very comfortable just giving the same train of thought a little more time to breathe.

If that’s a little too New Age for you, think of it this way: say what you’re writing in your head. If you naturally pause, it’s probably time for a period. If you pause less—that is to say, take less of a breath—a comma might be in order.

In our little punctuation family, the colon and semicolon are period’s big brothers. I would argue they represent even larger pauses than the period, which I realize flies in the face of certain conventional wisdom. But the colon digs drama: he likes “a-ha” moments. In the preceding sentence, the colon separates two clauses, the latter of which explains or qualifies the former. The semicolon has a similar penchant for the dramatic pause; however, his pause is a little gentler, a little more nuanced. He ties two independent clauses together quite elegantly, and yet he still possesses a certain dramatic and breathless flair that his yeomanlike brother the period lacks.

To complicate matters, you have the crazy uncles: the parentheses and the dash. (And please note: I don’t mean to gender stereotype any of my punctuation friends. My all-male gender assignments are entirely arbitrary.) Parentheses are the Wormtongues of the punctuation family. You say things in an off-hand, under-your-breath manner by using the parentheses. On the other hand—and there is always more than one way to do things—the dash loves to call attention to itself. The dash is bold, an abrupt interruption in tone or subject that nonetheless comments on or qualifies its sentence in some way.

There are of course other, more exotic punctuations you might try… but I think you have enough to chew on! The lesson here is to think about every piece of punctuation: to make deliberate decisions based on content, intent, authorial voice, and the pauses and inflections inherent in both speech and thought. What is your philosophy of punctuation? Any tricks to share? Let us know!