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This month we have expert advice from Simon Whaley on how to structure writing for maximum success. Ten Top Tips looks at approaching an editor in the right way and Successes provides you with your monthly inspirational encouragement. The End Note and Useful Websites will, hopefully, be as useful as ever.

Structural Success

By Simon Whaley

All articles need a beginning, middle and an end, but ...newsflash... you don’t have to write them in that order! In fact, if you tackle the middle first, you stand a better chance of writing an attention-grabbing opening, because you have a clearer idea of what it is your article is actually about. Use the right structure and middles needn’t turn into a muddle. The challenge is deciding which structure works best for your article idea.


Don’t have any ideas about which structures you could use? Stop panicking! Flick through your target magazines and you’ll discover that there are several common formats you can use to your advantage. Here are a few to get you started.

Let’s Start Counting ... 1, 2, 3

Magazines may be full of words, but they love numbers! Just look at their front covers, ‘Ten ways to meet Brad Pitt.’ ‘Seven ways to leave your lover.’ ‘Nine ways to get back with them.’ I’ve even seen an article entitled ‘237 fashion ideas for summer!’

From a writer’s point of view, numbers are great because they help to keep you focussed. When planning your outline, list the numbers you need and then briefly identify what you’ll discuss for each point. For an article called ‘Seven Gorgeous Museums’ about some of the interesting exhibitions found at the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, I outlined the following:

1. Blists Hill Victorian Town – Step back in time to the Victorian Era and change your money into pounds, shillings and pence.

2. Enginuity – Get active! Build an earthquake-proof tower and learn how to pull 10 tons with your little finger.

3. Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron – Discover how Abraham Darby launched the Industrial Revolution from this quiet Shropshire valley.

4. Jackfield Tile Museum – Walk through an Edwardian Tube Station!

5. The Ironbridge and Tollhouse – Cross the world’s first iron bridge.

6. Broseley Pipe Works – Explore Britain’s most prolific tobacco clay pipe producing factory.

7. Tar Tunnel – Wander through the brick tunnel where bitumen oozes through the walls!

By producing two tightly focussed paragraphs on each museum, the bulk of my 1200 word feature was written, leaving just the opening and closing paragraphs to write. And because I knew what my article covered, I was able to write a stronger opening to grab the reader’s interest.

Numbers offer a variety of structures for writers to draw upon:

  • Step-by-step – I sold an article to Water Gardener magazine called “Freshen Up Your Fishpond’. It was a ten-step piece explaining how readers could clean up their garden pond. Structuring it simply meant breaking the process down into ten different steps – or ten paragraphs. For more information about writing step-by-step ‘How To’ articles, see Lorraine Mace’s feature in April’s Ezee Writer.

  • The Accumulator – Some magazines use numbers to represent an accumulator effect. It’s a useful technique for finance. An article entitled ‘Save up to £2,000 on your household bills’ may begin with a ‘Total Saving £275’ heading and explain how you could save £275 by switching energy suppliers. The next stage in the article may be headed ‘Total Saving £400’ and will tell readers how they can save another £125 on top of the £275 from the first tip. By the end of the article, the final heading will be ‘Total Saving £2,000’ followed by the last money-saving tip.

  • Timelines – For historical pieces, the simplest way to recount history is to start at the beginning and work towards the present day. If a historical castle or stately home was first built in the 17th Century, you could break the article down into 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century sections.

  • Countdowns – Ten Top New York Tourist Attractions. Simply start at number ten and work backwards, saving number one, the best, until last.

 

Know Your ABCs
Use the alphabet to structure your articles. How many times have you come across the ‘A to Z of …’ features? I’ve seen features tackling the A to Z of Herbs, the A to Z of local villages and even the A to Z of Childhood Diseases! Planning your feature is simply a question of identifying a suitable subject for each letter of the alphabet. Some lateral thinking may be required for more challenging letters such as J, Q, X and Z! Alternatively, you could find that rather than produce an article, the A to Z structure could lead to a series of articles, with each article focussing on one letter.

Time
Although closely related to the number structure, time still offers a variety of options when it comes to writing an article. A feature along the lines of ‘A Day in the Life of …” may well follow a numerical structure by summarising what happens during each hour. Don’t just think of hours though. Would your idea be more suited to a week’s timeframe, a month, or even a year? When considering a year, would you be better splitting your article down into 12 months, or four seasons? An article about entertaining children during the long summer holidays could be split into weeks, with a new idea for each week of the holiday.

Question Time
Interviews can be found in many publications, but the way they are dealt with varies considerably. The traditional ‘question and answer’ structure, where the question is in bold typeface, with the answer printed underneath is looking a bit old-fashioned these days, but there are some exceptions. Newspapers and magazines often have slots where the same set of questions is asked in each issue. If you have access to a suitable interviewee, your structure has already been produced for you – simply ask the same questions that appear in the publication each time! Alternatively, you could structure your article by listing the questions you want to ask, and ensuring that they flow logically from one question to the next. When you type up your article, delete the questions so that your text simply comprises the answers. It sounds strange, but this structure can really work well.

These are just a few of the formats you’ll come across. Study your target market. Do you notice any other structures that they use? If so, would it work for your feature idea? You know the magazine likeS that format, otherwise they wouldn’t have used it in the issue in front of you!

The beauty of creating a strong structure to the middle of your article means that when the time comes for you to write your beginning, you know exactly what your article is about. All too often, beginnings are ruined because a novice writer takes four paragraphs of waffle to work out in their heads what it is they actually want their article to be about. Sort the middle out first, and your beginning and ending will fall into place!

Editors are always looking for ways in which old ideas can be presented in a fresh way. Choosing a different structure could be the freshness they’re looking for. Having a recipe of structures like this to choose from, means that in the future, writing an article could be as easy as A, B, C or even 1, 2, 3!

Simon Whaley is a tutor for the Writers Bureau and the author of over 400 articles. He has also written several short stories and nine non-fiction books, including the bestselling “100 Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human.” You can follow more of Simon’s advice at his ‘Simon Says!’ blog: http://simonwhaleytutor.blogspot.com