Skills for journalists in print and digital media

Storytelling 3: Pick a main character

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Good stories usually revolve around a main character. As you begin to frame and report a piece with an eye toward storytelling, settling on a main character is an important early step.

A main character can be a single person, a group of people, or even an organization. In selecting a main character you are simultaneously settling on a point of view and a theme or premise.

Point of view does not mean an opinion, but rather a perspective, a vantage point, a central focus through which the story unfolds. In classic story structure, a main character encounters a complication, grapples with the complication, and then resolves the complication. So the selection of a main character is also the selection of the complication and storyline.

Imagine a movie about a big family wedding. Many possible storylines are contained in that situation. If the main character is the bride, perhaps its a story about balancing family pressures with her fiance. If the main character is the groom, perhaps the story is about last minute fears about commitment. Mother of the bride. Ex-boyfriend. Sister. Even the band. When you select that main character, their complication becomes the center of the story, the foreground, and everything else is of relative value, interest, or attention based on that central focus.

Imagine a story about a controversial pieces of legislation coming up for a vote in your state legislature. You might attempt a setup piece about the bill, its impact, its supporters and detractors. But that story could devolved into a list-like recitation of facts and events. Instead, thinking of a main character, perhaps the story is about the legislator who has pushed the bill through, or the legislator who has led the fight against the bill. Without taking a position on the bill’s value, a good story with either main character instead focuses on the deeper, more universal storylines of how a person tries to prevail, overcome the odds, stand up for values, or whatever that main character’s story might be. Along the way, the factual information about the bill and process is woven into the piece, but is not the story.

And, again, a main character in this example could be a group of people (e.g. a coalition of legislators behind the bill or lined up against it), or an organization (e.g. a political party, an industry group, another state or federal agency). All may be part of the landscape, but to craft a story you need to select one, a main character, as the vehicle for your tale. That may be a matter of interest, access, or news value.  In many cases you may have several choices. The important thing is to select one and then report and frame our story around that main character.

Storytelling 1: Touching shared emotions

Storytelling 2: Chronology is your best friend

Storytelling3: Pick a main character

Storytelling 4: Microcosm, telling details, and meaning

Storytelling 5: Subtext and universal experiences

Storytelling 6: Outline the story, frame a chronology

Storytelling 7: Writing that shows, lets readers feel


Written by mroberts8

02/04/2010 at 10:06 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Storytelling 3: Pick a main character Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Are you in your body?A Methodology for Crafting Awesome Experiences – Part 7 […]

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