I once thought there was a story in everyone.
Silly me. But I still believe it.
All of us have moments of triumph and tragedy.
It’s what life is about – one test after another.
Once I thought I had met my match.
A good friend of ours called with a story suggestion.
One of his employees was retiring.
Would a feature story about her interest our readers?
He gave me her name and phone number.
We sat down in her living room.
I asked her the 20 questions I often ask.
(For all 20 questions, email me.)
I started with softball ones, then harder ones.
She blew me off.
Her life had been tranquil, she said.
Bull, I thought, and asked:
1. What is the worst thing to happen to you?
2. What do you most regret about your life?
4. If you could redo anything, what would it be?
She was evasive. She shook her head.
No worst moments, no regrets, nothing to redo.
I finally left without a story.
She had a story. She just didn’t want to share it.
Interviews aren’t always disasters.
A reader recommended interviewing a friend of hers.
I called and arranged a meeting.
We sat down in her garden and talked.
She, too, was evasive about her own life tests.
I finally asked the biggie;
“What was the worst thing to happen to you?”
She was silent but I could see it in her eyes.
The videotape was running in her mind.
“It was about this time 12 years ago,” she said.
“My husband was across the road on his tractor.
“It was growing dark and he was heading home.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw headlights.
“My husband did not see them.”
That night a truck hit and killed him.
We talked about what it had been like for her.
How it changed her life, left her feeling abandoned.
She seemed relieved to be able to talk about it.
Tragic as it was, she gave me a story people would read.
They could relate to it. All of us lose loved ones.
Am I only looking for tragedies in life?
No. Readers love stories of triumph, too.
Particularly if the odds of success are slim.
What makes good stories are these 2 elements.
Without them, we don’t have much of a story.
Suspense writer James Scott Bell preaches this:
“A short story is about one shattering moment.”
He’s not just talking about fiction.
Stories of life’s shattering moments are powerful.
His theory works in newspaper feature stories.
“The characters will never be the same.
“Life for them has been ineluctably altered.
“That’s what a shattering moment does.”
My recommendation is to find those moments.
They come in tragic as well triumphant form.
Give your readers a story that will move them.
Did you like this writing tip?
Here’s another: Order a copy of my new book:
“The Little Red Book of Compelling Writing.”
It’s filled with tips to help you write better.
Email me at email@example.com and I’ll notify you when it’s available.