20/20: 20 Tips from short pieces

Want to get a story? Get a life.
By Lorrie Lykins

Lane DeGregory’s list of instructions on generating story ideas that grow into memorable narratives is probably opposed to any advice your mom may have given you—talk to strangers, play hooky, hang out in bars, eavesdrop on strangers, take down the numbers of people who post notices on Laundromat bulletin boards (and call them), hand out your own number to everyone, and be sure to hang around with the rough-looking crowd.

DeGregory writes stories about people who are on the edge of their communities, and she goes out there with them. Her list of tips may be about where to find the often quirky characters she writes about, but beyond that, her message to narrative writers is to look for stories everywhere, from the moment you walk out the front door in the morning. The person in line behind you at the grocery store might be your next great story, but you won’t learn this if you’re not open to conversation with strangers.

Scan your environment. Look for stories where there don’t appear to be stories. But most importantly, DeGregory reminds us, the best way to write compellingly about the lives of the people in your community is to be part of it. Get out of the office and attend a little league game, stop at the corner pub on your way home and listen to the conversations around you. Read the smaller free newspapers that are tossed in your driveway, read the classified ads in your own paper. Talk to anyone. Narrative is about life, and in DeGregory’s words, “Get a life, get a story!”

Lorrie Lykins is a full-time freelancer based in the Tampa Bay area.

Posted in identifying the story, sessions.20 Tips from 20 Short Pieces, speakers.Lane DeGregory on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

Analog Evangelism in the Digital Age

By Bill Mitchell

After Lane DeGregory's session on stories and the ideas that spark them, Ben Montgomery of the Times Herald-Record stood up during the Q&A and told the St. Pete Times reporter:

"You're good. We print you out. We pass you around."

Nice testimonial for Lane. Nice snapshot of learning in a newsroom.

Bill Mitchell works for Poynter.

Posted in newsrooms, sessions.20 Tips from 20 Short Pieces, speakers.Lane DeGregory on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

A 24-Hour Job

By Larry Schooler

I remember learning just before I became a camp counselor that the job I was about to take — at a salary of $100 for the summer — was a 24-hour-a-day job. Even my rudimentary math skills convinced me that my employers were “exploiting” me (albeit lovingly and thoughtfully) for a job that would keep me busy even while sleeping. Naturally, they were right: my seven-year-old campers would wake up with nightmares and run home in the afternoons with insect bites.

But I loved my underpaid camp counseling job, just like I love my underpaid journalism job, and after hearing Lane DeGregory’s 20 tips for finding compelling narratives, I understand why. Lane does her job in such a way that she’s never really not doing it. In a way that makes me uncomfortable, since I’ve always wanted to maintain a work-life balance — and leave work at work. But my mind races, regardless, and Lane’s tips, from hanging out in bars to joining bowling leagues, seem like ideal ways to put that racing mind to good journalistic use.

I learned something else from Lane, too, something that she might not want to know. When she began her presentation, I saw a bubbly, bright-eyed blonde whom I expected would focus on the kind of sugary sweet stories I try to avoid reading or watching. Instead, I found a journalist who seems to crave telling stories of notable failures and less notable successes in ways that paint more accurate pictures of the world. My misperception of Lane reinforced one of the ideas she spoke about — not to discount someone because their culture and mine differ.

Read Lane DeGregory and learn. And remember — you can never really clock out at the end of a day on this job.

Larry Schooler is a public radio journalist based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Posted in reporting, sessions.20 Tips from 20 Short Pieces, speakers.Lane DeGregory on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink