THE FIRST QUESTION: WHAT DO I WANT TO SAY?
You can only write well if you have a clear idea of what you want to write. Whatever the genre you decide to use to express what you want to write, a journalist needs to stick to the essentials, a concentrated message that you emphasise for maximum effect in the very first lines of your text.
For example, in a report: “Life in our small corner of paradise has become a nightmare,” grumbles Marine Waterman, chair of the association of disgruntled islanders, looking towards the port of Moray. This is the exact spot where, three months ago, Mark Pesos introduced himself for the first time. Traumatised by the hostage experience he suffered in Money Street, he decided he would never again leave his safety to chance. And so work on the new head office of his bank, which will be moved to Moray as soon as possible, began. The famous banker does not yet know it, but the islanders plan to lodge an appeal against his project…
Then explain, as your story progresses, the potential consequences of this clash.
TWO ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:
WHO AM I TELLING THIS TO AND HOW SHOULD I SAY IT?
- Journalists write for a familiar audience. They write to servetheir readers. But newspapers do not all have the same readers. Professional journalists adapt what they write to the needs of their readership. If they are writing for young readers, for example, they take on the role of teacher. If they are writing for the well-informed, they take on the role of expert. Journalists do not write for themselves, they write for others. While they adapt their writing for the needs of their readers in general, they still keep in mind that they are writing for each of them individually. They write in a simple way, one that is universally accessible, using short sentences with just the right words, but avoiding flourishes. Their writing flows quickly. Its tempo mirrors the present, the immediacy of the news. Its simplicity is its strength. It provides lots of information in just a few words: “His suit is torn. Smoke rises from his leather shoes. He takes a few steps, knees trembling, and leaves the building, never to return. Mark Pesos, shaken up by the explosion of his new high-security building, leaves the island of Moray for good…”.
HERE’S THE KEY: HAVE FUN WITH YOUR WRITING.
Journalistic writing has its conventions, but is far from stereotyped. It reflects life, in all its shades. Beginners who believe they need to imitate the writing of veteran journalists are making a mistake. Journalistic writing, thankfully, does not have a format. Luckily for the readers! If it did, editorial content would look so similar that readers would tire of newspapers. A journalist needs to find their own style, claim it and make their writing uniquely theirs. They get here by taking pleasure in writing every day. It’s a question of working to make your writing your own, of finding a way to report images, sounds and scents that is unique to you. Journalists learn to write as they breath, by playing with figures of speech, to give rhythm and life to the way their ideas, their words and their images are organised.
PLAY WITH MEANING.
- Find appropriate analogies.Let your imagination run free to strike the right comparisons. Nothing beats an image when it comes to embellishing your text. On Moray, Mark Pesos’ high-security building exploded? What does it look like, stones strewn over the ground? The image is immediate: “In the middle of this field in full flower, Mark Pesos’ work has been reduced to ruins…”.
- Personify abstract ideas.For example, “Justice pursuing the Crime” under the reproving eye of “a Republic up in arms…”! But take care: while allegory is a popular editorial technique, don’t overdo it; this is the exact opposite of simplicity.
- Create new types of people.Turn proper nouns into common nouns: “From now on, people will refer to a cornered banker as ‘a Pesos’…”
- Employ euphemisms.Say less to imply more: “Mark Pesos won’t be covering anything up any time soon…”.
- Use irony. For example, by expressing an idea through its opposite.
PLAY WITH WORD PLACEMENT.
- Pile up the words.Build up gradually: “Goodbye banknotes, ingots, treasures, wonders!…” This creates an edginess in your writing.
- Use emphatic effects.Give rhythm to your text by repeating the last word of one sentence at the start of the next: “Mark Pesos was on the stairs. The stairs were steep…”. Or repeat the same word at the start and middle of the same sentence: “Mark Pesos was on the stairs, Mark Pesos was in a hurry…”. This process also allows for editorial developments: “As Mark Pesos was rushed, as the stairs were steep, as he stumbled…”, etc.
- Adorn your copy with a “mirror effect”.For example, make your close parallel your opener: “His suit is torn… His suit lies discarded…”. Or hold it back to emphasise your close: “ Yesterday, his immaculate suite symbolised his success. Torn, smoking, covered in dirt, today his damaged suit symbolises his fall from grace…”.
- Surprise your readers by breaking free from the norm. Break up your sentence structure: “The building constructed by Mark Pesos, even if it had been more robust, would still not have withstood...”
PLAY WITH THE MUSICALITY OF THE WORDS.
- Build musical harmonies.Make your sentences rhyme when the context allows for a little eloquence: “The island, so full of beauty, prevails against one man’s vanity…”
- Add a little poetry to your prose.Try alliteration, by repeating the same starting sound, or assonance, by repeating the same vowel sound.
- Don’t worry if you’re a little colloquial.Add idioms and colloquialisms to your stories of day-to-day life: “Alright!” “See you later!”