Writing an Article – Newsletter

How to Write an Article for Your Club’s Bulletin In Twelve Steps

Based on “Getting Your Club to Write,” by Dennis Westman, Minnesota Mineral Club, in S.C.R.I.B.E. Newsletter, Oct-Dec 2004 and On Writing, by Stephen King, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Step 1 – Pick a subject that interests you

It could be a story about something you’ve done (collecting agates, panning for gold), or it could be research about something you’ve never done (digging up dinosaur fossils in Antarctica).

Step 2 – Map it out

Planning is everything. You have to figure out how to get from A to Z in your story. Outline with pencil & paper the bare bones of your story. Jot down important things you “must have” in the article (where the collecting took place, how many gold nuggets you found). Keep in mind the five W’s of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why. Your outline should include all of them.

Step 3 – Start writing

Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. That’s what editors are for. Refer back to your outline, use your own voice, and let the story flow naturally, as you would tell it to a friend. With your outline, you won’t forget all those exciting tidbits you might have left out if you were just spouting off to your friends.

Step 4 – Plot, characters, scenery, and dialogue

If you were submitting a movie script, you’d be kicked out of the producer’s office for leaving any of these items out. A story can’t be a story without them; it won’t “sell” to the audience. Let’s cover those four items in the next few steps.

Step 5 – Plot

Writing is not rambling. The ideas of Beginning, Middle and End are universal to all stories. Usually a normal timeline is followed, where “what happened next” is the rule. The most common exception to this rule is a flashback (“The saber-toothed cat plunged into the sticky tar pit, unaware that his fossilized bones would be left for us to find 20,000 years later.”).

Step 6 – Characters

The people who are in the story: it’s your job to describe them, from height, age, hair color and clothing, to habits and attitude. Simply writing that “Jake drove us as far as Mesquite,” is not the same as writing, “With Jake’s spiky green hair and his crazy attitude towards other drivers on the road, we feared we’d never make it to Mesquite.” Strictly, only people can be characters, but no one will complain if animals, plants and rocks have personalities in your story as well.

Step 7 – Scenery

The setting of the story includes the natural landscape and the man-made objects in it (roads, tools, vehicles, buildings, etc.). This is where you can really get imaginative with descriptions, since no two people see the same object in the same way. If you want to describe a yellow crystal as “lemony” or an empty desert as “filled with the promise of geological secrets,” it’s up to you.

Step 8 – Dialogue

What do the characters say in the story? Though many stories are written without dialogue, it’s usually more interesting if you include some. Writing that “Julie was excited about her fossil find,” is less interesting than writing, “We all heard Julie yell, ‘I think I found a complete tooth!'” Internal dialogue – describing your thoughts and emotions – also adds to a story, making it more compelling than a “just the facts, ma’am” report.

Step 9 – Go back and revise

You’ve written your story by now, following Steps 1 through 8. But it’s pretty rough; it could be better. Go back over it, maybe read it out loud to a friend, add a few things you forgot, or cut out some unnecessary sentences. Substitute a better word or phrase for the ones you wrote originally. Polish it. Rockhounds all know that most everything looks better with a good polish on it.

Step 10 – Give your story a title

A catchy title is always a plus, and will draw readers to your story. “Titanic” is a better title than “An Interrupted Ocean Voyage.” But don’t go overboard! A simple, appropriate title is still better than a contrived, overly cute one.

Step 11 – Space is a consideration

Everyone who writes for publication in print (bulletins, newspapers, magazines) must deal with space limitations. Cutting your work is often necessary. Writer Stephen King says that you should always cut out or condense at least one-third of everything you’ve written. It’s like over packing for a trip: when you return home, you realize that you didn’t need to cart around all that extra baggage. In the real world, an editor will have to cut your story if you don’t do it yourself.

Step 12 – Prepare for next time

If you weren’t entirely happy with your first story, think about future possibilities. Carry a small notebook with you and jot down observations about people, scenery, conversations, etc. You’ll be surprised how easily this will guide you in completing Steps 1 through 8.
CFMS Newsletter September 2005.