Now for the twelfth instalment in my writing workshop series. I’ve covered the short story ending as well as the opening. I’ve guided you through dialogue and focused on the importance of taking time to do things properly. I’ve also given you a competitions refresher and some general advice on the art of the short story. The seventh instalment was about tips on writing humorous pieces and the eight helped you with generating ideas. Then I turned to the art of copywriting followed by writing anniversary pieces. Last week looked at how to generate more ideas – but in a different way. This week moves on to the true-life story:
How To Tempt The Editor With Your True-Life Tale
Many writers cringe when it’s suggested they consider writing a true-life feature for one of the women’s weeklies. Take a look at the cover of some of them and it’s easy to see why. ‘Gunned down by her mum’s gold digging killer’, ‘My fella was a secret porn star’ and ‘He stole my heart and then my kidney’ are just some of the eye-catching headlines. Most writers tend to think that a) their life isn’t as dramatic as that and b) even if it was, they wouldn’t want their story to be sensationalised in a magazine akin to the tabloid press.
So it’s easy to put this market to one side and to overlook the numerous opportunities which come under the umbrella of the true-life story. Here’s a look at some of them and how to make yours stand out.
An attention grabbing story
There’s a reason why the most shocking stories are headlined on the front cover. There’s intense competition between the women’s weeklies. When readers are deciding which magazine to buy, they often go for the one with the most unbelievable stories. So placing outrageous headlines on the front cover helps to sell more copies. But open any of the magazines and you’ll soon find that not all stories are of the jaw dropping variety.
Nonetheless, they’re unlikely to print a story about the close relationship you have with your best friend or how you love animals. Most of us have a great relationship with our best friends and love animals so there needs to be more of a story for it to stand out. Going back to friendship, a story about running into your best friend from primary school 30 years later and picking up where you left off makes a touching story and one that readers will be interested in. Similarly, readers would love to hear about a dog that rescued its owner.
Most of the women’s weeklies have health pages, which feature readers’ stories about illnesses and operations. Though, it’s no good writing about your verruca or latest bout of bronchitis. An unusual allergy, a bad reaction to an operation or triumph over a life-threatening illness are all stories that an editor will snap up.
Moments to treasure
Some of the magazines have slots which welcome special moments in a reader’s life. Ideal stories for these include achieving something for charity, gaining a qualification against all odds, an unusual birthday celebration or how the death of someone in the family spurred you on to do something he/she would have been proud of.
Travel articles for the women’s weeklies used to be written mainly in-house, but now many of them have opportunities for readers. Some are looking for a double page spread of your holiday story while others just have a small slot on your favourite holiday destination.
A lot of the usual touristy spots such as Rome and Benidorm have been used before so if you have been somewhere a little different, you’re likely to catch the editor’s eye. A lot of the magazines now seem to feature a lot of destinations in the UK, especially in the current economic climate.
Tips to make your story stand out:
Your opening sentence needs to grab the editor’s attention and draw her into your story e.g. ‘I always knew there was something special about Frodo, but little did I know that he’d end up saving my life’. This immediately piques the editor’s interest, making your story stand out from others in the pile.
Keeping the editor’s interest
Once you have hooked the editor’s interest with your opening sentence, you need to keep her hooked. In a travel article, it’s no good writing 800 words about how you spent every day lounging by the pool. But if you visited a castle where one of the Harry Potter movies was filmed, that’s likely to appeal to the editor.
For a travel article clear, high quality photographs are a must. These can often be a deciding factor in an editor accepting your article. Even if you write an entertaining travel piece, if you only have drab, grainy photos to accompany it, the editor will have to turn it down.
For all other types of true-life stories, photos are always required. You don’t have to send them with your story, just state that you’re happy to provide them.
Market research is very important. All the true-life feature opportunities differ from magazine to magazine. New slots are opening up all the time, so study the market carefully and share you story.