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Weekly Writing Tips: How to Find Story Ideas

Categories: Writing Tips

The Weekly Writing Tips are a collection of best practices for writing and reporting at Global Voices. July's tips are brought to you by Brazil editor Taisa Sganzerla [1].

Welcome to the (belated) July's second installment of your Weekly Writing Tips!

We'll dedicate the next two installments to an issue a lot of authors (including myself) often struggle with: how to find stories. Today, I'll share with you some of my own methods on how to find stories IRL (in real life) and, later, we'll do one on how to find stories in social media (or, The Great Internet).

Those are a couple of my own methods for IRL:

Look for fresh angles in widely covered stories in the media: We've all noticed it before: breaking news stories, though they're reported by every single website on the Internet, generally look identical: same sources, similar quotes and a general lack of interesting details. As an independent media website, it's important for GV to be original and offer fresh angles on widely covered subjects. But how to find them? Those are a few rules I follow while doing research:

Tip: zoom in! Some of my authors write to me saying they want to write about very broad themes, like “police violence” or “immigration”. I advise them to zoom in on the theme and focus on more specific aspects of it as this help to make their story more compelling. I often ask the following questions:

Don't be so megalomaniac: We journalists always dream of publishing stories that will overthrow presidents and shut down corporations. But a lot of less grand stories — the ones that not necessarily try to explain the major challenges of our time — have made a very strong impact on me as a reader, and I believe this is the case for a lot of people too. Example: I absolutely love Latin American author Gabriela García's Calderón‘s posts. She brings so many positive, heartfelt stories, often from social media, that just brighten up my day, like this one about a YouTube star in Honduras [2] or how the Kuna people treat albino people [3] in their communities.

Don't be scared of inviting strangers for coffee: Head of NGOs, aid workers, activists, hackers, journalists: I lost count of how many times I wrote to these people introducing myself and inviting them for an unpretentious chat — and 90% of the time, of course, I was met with silence. However, the other 10% I met great people, with lots of interesting things to tell me that, even if they didn't immediately turn out to be a story, they helped me make sense of a lot of subjects I am interested in.

Diversify your group of friends: As we reach adulthood, we tend to hang out with people with very similar interests and often in the same work field as ours. I realized that this made me stuck in a loop where everybody often talked about the same subjects (and rarely disagreed about anything). So I make an effort and always try to hang out with (for example) engineers for a change. And remember: always ask people questions — a lot of them. Truth is, people love to talk about themselves and, specially, their work. Don't be bored: they will always interesting things to say if you know what to ask.

See you on our next installment!