How to Find a Good Idea

Posted on: April 27, 2010

Writers and editors are always hunting for good ideas, whether a sparkling, original one or a new angle on a tried-and-true war-horse. After all, every print and online publication needs to be fed, some on a daily basis. Finding good story ideas is a constant scramble.

Let’s say you need a good idea for a travel article.

Start by establishing your subject area, also known as the focus, angle, slant, hook, or thread. Since you clearly cannot write about everything relating to even one place, much less an entire neighborhood, city, region or country, you have to focus on some particular aspect.

For example, if the editor of a travel magazine wants an article about St. Louis, Missouri and has asked you to submit several ideas for articles, what do you do? Begin by jotting down large topic areas like historical sites, arts, museums, festivals, food, neighborhoods, local celebrities, music, and so on. You’ll probably have to research the metro area in order to make such a list, and you might also want to check around to see what has already been written in travel magazines and blogs, and in the travel section of newspapers. And, by the way, what are actual travelers interested in knowing? Get all the stats you can.

Pick one of the topic areas and refine it. Take food, for example. Do you want to write about cuisine native to St. Louis (yes, it exists; gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli are just some of the fare to be enjoyed)? Or would you prefer to neighborhood hop and sample what one or two areas offer, or, alternatively, highlight one venerable dish and how chefs in different neighborhoods prepare it? What about tracing a single St. Louis food specialty back to its origins? If a local chef or restaurant has just won a major award, would a timely profile piece appeal to readers (and the editor)? Maybe a jazzy piece on the truly great “dives” in the city? Or how about throwing a spotlight on bars that serve the best bar food?

You can see where this is leading—right to what could become a very interesting slant on St. Louis food. And now you’re on a roll, slicing and dicing the “food” idea, heading toward a nicely defined point of view, which will give the editor a story worth telling and, for the magazine’s audience, a story worth reading.

Continue shaping your story idea by tightening the frame, so that you zoom in closer and closer to an idea about food that is very particular and very local. And while you’re at it, sharpen the focus until you distill your idea to one facet of the subject.

If you follow this process, you should bag your quarry in the end.

What do you think?  Do you have any tips for tracking down a good story idea?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower


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