How can I make routine stories less routine?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

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Finding beauty in the routine

Dear Coach,

I keep getting assigned routine stories — festivals, fairs, community and school events, especially when I work during the weekend. I know these stories have to be done. But how I can keep them from being — well — routine? — On the Festival Beat

Dear Festival,

My take on approaching the so-called routine story is this: “Routine” is a state of mind, not a topic. A reporter with a keen eye and a nose for the offbeat can find a delicious story in a state fair green-bean-judging contest, an annual garden festival, a water commission hearing or the most routine of police stories.

William Zinsser, in his book “On Writing Well” (2001, Harper Resource), has this to say about tackling a boring story: “You’ll find the solution if you look for the human element. Somewhere in every drab institution are men and women who have a fierce attachment to what they are doing and are rich repositories of lore. Somewhere behind every storm sewer is a politician whose future hangs on getting it installed and a widow who has always lived on the block and is outraged that some damn-fool legislator thinks it will wash away. Find these people to tell your story, and it won’t be drab.”


Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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