Issue 3, No. 10 – Sept. 20, 2007

Shout Outs

Nothing enlivens and empowers writing more than specific detail. When you’re out on the street reporting, create a special place in your notebook for every imaginable detail your senses can take in. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many of these nuggets you’ll use to power your story.

Watch how Barry Paddock creates a delicious image as he observes New York Knick Nate Robinson bite into a new Domino’s dessert pizza (the emphasis is mine):

There was a mild crush of cameras as Robinson took his first bite of the Oreo pizza, the crowd waiting in some suspense for his reaction. “Oh my goodness, I have to have another bite; I’m sorry,” he said, a dot of vanilla icing sticking to the upper left corner of his lip.

When you learn which side of the lip the icing is on, you really feel like you’re there. Barry then provides another specific detail that lets you learn something about Robinson (By the way, no other reporter asked what the letters stood for):

He sported a diamond in each ear and black ink tattoos down each of his arms, one spelling “FROG” in a gothic script. He said it stood for “Fully Relying On God.”

When you’re taking notes, find a way to highlight details like this. I divide my notebook into 2 sections, one for details, color, questions and stars for good quotes, the other part for the standard sequence of the interview. You’ll come up with your own techniques (pens of different colors, magic markers, etc.) but the idea is to capture details that will enrich your story when you sit down to write.

Speaking of details, Dorian Davis piled one on top of another to illustrate the scope of a proposed building in Tokyo (For the record, it will probably never be built):

Taisei conceived X-Seed 4000, a building 4,000 meters high, during the 1990s. At its base in Tokyo’s harbor, the super-tall skyscraper would span more than two square miles. A circle of wide, habitable pillars would house more than a half-million people in 750 million square feet of residential and office space. These pillars would support a soaring, teepee-like frame reaching a height of 13,123 feet at its “peak”—some 700 feet taller than Japan’s Mount Fuji, whose profile reportedly inspired the building’s shape.

We often caution about piling on numbers in your writing but there’s real power in the ones Darrian used, down to the exact number of feet at the building’s peak. The comparison with the landmark, Mount Fuji, allows readers to understand just how massive the building would be.

Dorian used another detail – the building would be 800 stories high – to come up with a delightful ending:

Indeed, as one reader on wondered, how long would a person on the 800th floor need to wait for an elevator?


We’ll talk about endings in another issue but one tip is to bring the story back to where you started, the lead. Dorian’s piece began with the sheer magnitude of the project and he cleverly brought the story back to the same place with his question on the elevator wait.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.