Writing Workshop Week 8: Building a Pyramid Upside Down
Time to get your words into print. Starting this week I’ll be sharing lessons in journalistic forms of writing. Up to now you’ve been noodling around with the writing process and methods for getting the creative juices boiling. Now it’s time to put them to good use.
If you haven’t written for a newspaper or magazine before, maybe this is the time to think about it. One of the best ways to become better known as an author is to start writing guest columns for your local paper or feature stories for that alternative weekly or city magazine. Show off your expertise. Get some bylines--and some freelance checks.
The secret to getting paid for your nonfiction writing is knowing what publications are looking for. That means getting to know their content, formats and deadline schedules. We’ll get to all that later on in the semester.
For now, we’ll begin with how to write the basic news story (a format you can also use for writing simple press releases).
The origins of the inverted pyramid continue to spawn arguments among historians. A prevailing theory has it that battlefield reporters sending dispatches by telegraph from the Civil War fronts knew they couldn’t always trust the wires to get the complete story to their newspaper offices before a glitch interrupted the transmission. For that reason, they led each story with the most important facts about the event they were reporting. At the top went the key info. In each succeeding short paragraph, the information grew less and less important. Writing this way meant that the most important stuff made it into print.
Others say it had to do with the old hot lead type. If stories ran too long, the typesetters just ripped up the story from the bottom up, without bothering to read any of what they were cutting. Writers knew that if they wanted readers to get the goods, they’d better write it from the top down.
You can see the inverted pyramid style still being practiced in AP wire news stories. You can hear it on TV newscasts. It’s terse, frill-free and straightforward. The first couple of paragraphs give the reader the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When and Why (and sometimes How).
So here’s your exercise in writing a simple inverted pyramid news story. Think of a fairy tale that you know well – Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast. In only 10 to 15 lines, rewrite the story, putting the most important facts first and working your way down to incidental details. If you look at news stories, you’ll see a lot of facts and figures at the top, along with a quote from some “official” providing the info on the scene.
You’re really spoofing the inverted pyramid with this task, but it does let you see how it’s done. When you have a good ’un, post it in “comments” here.
Here's mine. (I just saw "Wicked," so I have witches on the brain.)
Kansas girl douses western tyrant, freeing Oz from terror
In the end, a bucket of water was all it took to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West. The much-feared sorceress melted shortly after midnight yesterday after being doused by Dorothy Gale, a 12-year-old Kansas farm girl who arrived in Oz under mysterious circumstances several weeks ago, according to officials in the Emerald City.
During the Wicked Witch of the West’s reign of terror, she enslaved hundreds of flying monkeys and is thought to have ordered the murders of scores of innocent Munchkins.
Eyewitnesses to her death said the witch’s last words were, “You cursed brat! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting.”
Reactions to her demise ranged from stunned silence by the Mean Apple Trees to jubilant cries of “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” by the witch’s own security guards.
“It’s wonderful to be free of her evil spells at last,” said Myron, captain of the flying monkeys.
Gale, whose falling house killed the Wicked Witch of the East, spurring a wave of violent reprisals, is expected to return to Kansas. No charges will be filed, according to law enforcement officials.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz issued a statement expressing his relief that the witches’ brand of terrorism had come to an end. He then announced his retirement and asked for cooperation in the handover of power to Scarecrow.
Glinda the Good Witch of the North flew in by bubble to reassure residents that rumors of other wicked witches building an insurgency were unfounded.
Glinda joined the Mayor of Munchkin City, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man in leading a parade of little people down the yellow brick road to celebrate their freedom.
Emerald City business owners already are considering erecting a monument to Gale. Many Munchkins said they now consider her a hero—and her little dog, too.
The witch’s castle has been closed to the public temporarily.