Michelle Richmond is the author of the international bestseller THE YEAR OF FOG and the forthcoming novel GOLDEN STATE. I do not know her, and have not read THE YEAR OF FOG. But I might.
I found a blog she wrote that really got me thinking. It's called, "How to Write a Novel: 10 Steps."
Can we take her tips (in boldface below) for writing novels, and apply them, at least in part, to what we ask our broadcast journalism students to do? Let's give it a try.
1. Forget the Outline: Some teachers require their students to do plenty of pre-shoot planning. Since we are often covering news, or news events, I don't. For the less-experienced teams, we have them make a shot list, and maybe write down five or six questions they want to ask. They do some research first, of course. But "Forget the Outline" reminds me that we are not producing a sketch, or telling people where to stand, what to do, when we cover a news story. Kids have to get there and shoot what they find. If the story takes a turn they had not expected, they absolutely have to "forget the outline."
2. Consider the Setting: Are we shooting outside, during the day, inside, at night, in cold weather, in hot weather…the setting is extremely important as students hit the field to shoot stories. Yes, we consider the setting. It impacts how we use our equipment, and which equipment they should take along in the first place.
3. Consider the Point of View: Here is where I suggest the point of view you consider first is the VIEWER'S point of view. What does your view need to know? As a journalist, you actually should not have a point of view. Find the truth and tell it, and keep yourself out of it.
4. Consider the Protagonist: WHO is the main character of your story? It is usually best to find one. And sometimes, that character can be a thing--like the old gym set for demolition. A loved landmark being moved. But usually it is best to find the person who has the most invested in your story. Remember, "News is people," as wise old producer once told me.
5. Consider the Conflict: A crucial piece of advice. No conflict, no story. The conflict makes us care. If everything is great, with no conflict, you are probably producing a commercial about the "cool new yogurt shop" down the street. That yogurt shop, by the way, has conflicts. Competitors, the cost of doing business, finding good employees.
6. Consider the Stakes: Al Tompkins teaches this to journalists. Consider your stakeholders, and yes, the stakes, which can be very high. Even in high school, we can delve into dicy topics that have a number of stakeholders who really care, and who will be impacted by our stories.
7. Embrace Fragments: Okay, this one is debated in journalistic circles now and then, but I hear a lot of fragments on the news. Often in teases, or in story leads. You do not have to embrace them, but if you write enough TV news stories, you will end up using fragments.
8. Write What You Don't Know: Yes. Cover stories you don't know anything about. Kids like their comfort zones. Teachers, take them out. Make them stretch and reach. Young journalists should appreciate the chance to cover things that actually challenge them.
9. Set a Deadline, But Be Realistic and Kind: This one is really up to the individual teacher. Some will bristle and the suggestion of a flexible deadline. Others will say, yeah, we push deadline when two more days will make the show a whole lot better. Some have a deadline they can not move, ever. They do not have a lot of flexibility.
10. Keep It to Yourself: From experience, I can tell you this is great advice for students covering hot topics that might make administrators uncomfortable. Just do the work, cover your topic fairly, and professionally, and let the chips fall where they may. If too many people know what you are up to, they may want to insert themselves into the process, and ask for changes.
So thanks, Ms. Richmond, for your excellent blog. It contains a lot of advice for writers, and I hope this blog contains a few usable suggestions for teachers, which they can share with their students. Now I think I'll go order your book.