Obsession is a must-have ingredient when launching any new project (I believe). So in the interest of obsessing I dug out a batch of old handouts collected by one of my mentors, a terrific editor and a terrific educator: Jacqui Banaszynski, formerly of The Seattle Times, now at Missouri School of Journalism.
This was part of a bunch of handouts she gave to us on Finding Stories. The Ten Pre-Proposal Checks were written by Amanda Bennett, formerly of the Wall Street Journal (where she won a Pulitzer) and later at the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Ten ways to assess your story idea before you try selling it to an editor
1. Where did your idea come from? If it came off reporting it’s probably a stronger idea than one you got just out of your head.
2. Is the idea original? Have you done your library research to see what else has been written on the topic?
3. Does the idea surprise you? If it doesn’t surprise you will it surprise your readers?
4.Does the idea have movement to it? Movement: change, direction, motion, it’s something that’s new….
5. Is there a story there? (a beg, middle, end)
6. Is there tension?
7. Is the story true? Before you propose a story do enough work to make sure you know what you are talking about.
8. When you talk about the story to your editor and friends, do you find yourself using a lot of verbs and talking about specific incidents. (Verbs. ACTION verbs. A former editor, Suki Dardarian, at the Seattle Times, talked to me about this once and I’ve never forgotten it when it comes to pitching stories. Go look at your budget lines. Do you have good, strong, ACTIVE verbs in them??!!)
9. Or do you find that you just can’t help falling back on weasel words?
10. Do you like the story? (If you hate it why would the editor LOVE it?)