News headlines like these are on a mission: to convey the story fast and first. Active, simple and present tense to grab attention; keyword focused for Google … they do the job.
But what next?
Journalists need to find fresh stories that cut through the noise, look great on mobile, advance the story and shout ‘read me’. It’s the same challenge content creators working for NGOs, in corporate comms or as freelancers face every day, often without an obvious launchpad like the Simone Biles story.
The solution starts with a ‘peg’ - an event, interview, anniversary or Olympic moment of drama. The peg is WHY we are telling the story NOW. But HOW are we going to tell it? This is where we need an ‘angle’.
We’ll find an angle by switching to what I call explainer mode.
I’ll tell you how it works, then show you an online tool that brings a new twist to the simplest technique in the book for generating story ideas. So …
Back to Simone Biles.
Start by placing yourself in the mind of your readers (or viewers, or listeners) and imagine what questions they are asking having just read one of those Biles stories. Scribble down questions that include, in turn, Who, Why, Where, When, What and How. Every line you write MUST include a question word. You can do it alone or brainstorm with others.
Be bold and creative - there is no such thing as a bad idea. Questions might include: What are the twisties? How did fans react? What happens next? Don’t assume your audience knows what you know. Who is Simone Biles? (and what makes her so special?) are good questions. You’ll often find more why’s, what’s and how’s - that’s OK.
Do it quickly - 15 minutes max. You should easily have six questions or more, the best of which will give you the way into the story (the angle) AND the base headline that will sell it to your audience.
Want to see the technique in action?
Try this Google search: biles intitle:who
operator - no space after the colon - returns only results with the keyword in the title). Now change who
and so on. See what I mean? That’s explainer thinking.
Before you create your story you’ll need to refine your headline and marry it with a mobile-friendly story form (Q&A, curated story, video explainer, timeline or in pictures, for example). I’ll return to these in future issues.
But for now, you know how to take any topic and come up with story ideas that will work, by simply asking the questions.