1. Focus on answering one simple question
2. Answer it through the stories of the people at the heart of the problem.
Take a look at a terrific story in the New York Times May 7. In The Broken Promise of Choice, reporters Elizabeth Harris and Ford Fessenden needed to explain a ridiculously complex application process for New York City’s eighth graders who wanted to go to the city’s few good really good schools. The story answered this question: A decade after Mayor Michael Bloomberg allowed students throughout the city to choose their high schools are so few poor students in the best of those schools?
To take us slowly through this process, which could have been tedious, the reporters focus on one counselor and two students at one middle school in the Bronx. Their hopes and frustrations keep the reader tied into what could have been a tedious story about processes and statistics.
Crafting a compelling long form story is difficult. Your goal is to compel readers into your story and keep them there until the last word. But in an attention deficit world that’s difficult. You don’t just need a compelling lead. You need compelling leads throughout your story.
Think about your story as if it were a book. Ever try reading a long book without chapters? Yikes!
Divide your story up into “chapters” or mini-stories. Each mini-story will need its own compelling lead. You might think about these mini stories as inverted pyramids. The problem is that the end of each mini story gives readers an exit door out of the story.
That’s where the Martini Glass style of story writing comes in. It is an inverted pyramid with a nice, juicy quote or piece of information as your glass stem or kicker. So what you end up with is a string of martini glasses standing on top of each other. Right after the juicy ending quote of one section comes a compelling secondary lead drawing the reader back into the story.