How to focus a story, and other tips from pro storytellers

“How do you focus a story?” asked Joe Fryer of NBC News at the Northwest Storytelling Workshop. You could center it around a character, around a place, or around an idea or concept. Once you’ve determined it, get rid of everything that doesn’t help your focus, Fryer said.

Fryer was one of several speakers at the recent storytelling workshop sponsored by NPPA, the National Press Photographers Association, at KING-TV in Seattle.

Matt Pearl from WXIA in Atlantic had tips for the multimedia journalist. In order to be successful writing and shooting solo, you need to be prepared, Pearl said. Bring essential equipment, tools and clothing. Eliminate variables: don’t give the interview subject a rolling chair.

Pearl uses his down time (on a plane, in a car) to brainstorm and plan his stories. Think about what you need to add perspective and carry your story, he added. What is the context? How do you sequence the story? What transitions do you need? Pearl writes a blog on storytelling.

“Tell stories about local issues but think globally,” said John Larson and Lisa Berglund. Local stories have global implications. Other tips from Larson and Berglund:

  • Own your own game, make up your own mind. Decide what’s good and seize control.
  • When shooting, stay in the moment as long as it matters. The camera never blinks.
  • Look for small details to help you get close to your subject. Help people feel they are there.
  • Shoot around the edges of the story. Look for textures, images and moments that can help tell the story.
  • Be intentional with sound. Get up close. Put the mike right next to what’s happening.
  • Excellence happens at the moment of conception. Is it fresh? Surprising? Compelling? Tightly focused? If you have a mediocre concept, you’ll have a mediocre story, no matter what bells and whistles you use.

Anne Herbst from KWGN-KDVR in Denver quoted Ira Glass, producer of This American Life, on storytelling. In the first of four videos with Glass, he talks about the building blocks of a great story.