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What makes a piece of writing a good story? Is it the beauty of the language? The luminous characters? Both are must-haves to be sure, but perhaps there’s something else that contributes to a sense of satisfaction, of finding an answer to a question you never thought to ask.

By the end of it, a great story has hopefully led you somewhere or fulfilled your curiosity—and that’s all thanks to determining the right angle at the outset.



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The Importance of Having an Angle in Your Writing

Story angles are essential because they guide you towards exactly what you need to write. An angle generates engagement with the story—holding the reader’s attention and deftly maneuvering the twists of turns of a good tale.

Different angles serve different purposes:

  • For news outlets, a human interest angle on a hard news story can communicate complex issues with greater impact and nuance. Interesting angles also give you an edge, which becomes crucial if every outlet is rushing to cover the same topic, as is often the case in this world of competing clicks.
  • In public relations, the best angles highlight the unique qualities of the clients they represent. A great press release is a mini-story in and of itself: rather than listing facts right up at the top, it might open with an anecdote that illustrates a crucial feature of the overall subject. Journalists receive hundreds of releases a day—in order to be noticed, there must be some kind of angle to intrigue the writer after they give it the briefest of cursory glances. Why should they care? Why do they need to write this specific story?
  • In media relations, angles can also come into play in a direct pitch. Some writers really are better suited to cover some stories—make it clear why that is, and they’ll understand how best to tell the story.

What Is the Difference Between a Topic and a Story?

A topic gives you a vast array of things to write about. Story ideas are specific: it gives you something to say. Topics are broadly informative, with the potential to branch off into many directions, while stories distill those options into a set point of view. For example, “fashion” is a topic; one of the only remaining couture feather workers in the industry is a story.

5 Tips on Finding the Right Angle

Relentlessly dialing down into the strongest angle is something you’ll hear throughout the newsrooms of media outlets like The New York Times and beyond: How can a story be more specific and singular? These are a few things you can do to bring more focus to your piece of writing:

  1. To develop a keen sense of what makes something not only newsworthy but interesting, read over the beginning paragraphs of a few recent favorite pieces you’ve seen. What do they have in common? Why did you keep reading?
  2. Before you start writing, identify those famous Ws of your story: the who, what, when, where, and why. The ‘why’ is the big one. Why is this worth writing, and therefore worth reading? What makes it essential?
  3. In journalism, your very first sentence, or your “lede,” sets the tone. (If that’s too daunting to craft right from the start, simply stick in a very basic placeholder to work from and to remind you of where you’re aiming. Then, when you have a greater grasp on the personality of the piece, go back to punch it up.) Your lede should not only establish the key elements of the story but provide a compelling reason for the reader to care—a cross between a summary and a tantalizing sneak peek.
  4. You can use contrast in a few different ways to heighten the reader’s understanding of your angle. You can contrast in tone, using an unexpectedly humorous voice or story to approach a dry topic. Begin your story in the opposite place of where you know you’ll end up, creating a narrative arc that delivers both a natural tension and pay-off, like the set-up and punchline of a joke. Feature literal contrast, with opposing viewpoints or perspectives driving the action.
  5. If you’re writing about a national, or global, news story, is there a local or personal angle that only you could write? This means mining your own life for related experiences or stories that share a piece of topical DNA with the news.


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