Great story ideas come by luck but also with the hard work of searching, pre-reporting and thinking. From our archives, here are a few timeless pro tips for idea-mining. Follow the links to longer pieces on story craft.
“Topic selection for a writer is crucial and not crucial at all. The not-crucial part is that in the end it is in the hands of the writer to make something come to life and make something feel relevant or moving or memorable. Some of the most interesting and surprising pieces have come from off-to-the-side topics or topics that on the surface don’t sound like they may be very good. So it really has to do a lot with the writer’s passion and what they bring to it and their knowledge, and just their sense of playfulness they see in something. And this is the one single piece of advice I give young writers and beginning writers: If you’re trying to break into a place that is a reach for you, or you’re trying to go to the next level, think of a story that nobody else can write with your perspective. And that way, if the editors like the subject or they like the idea, they’ve got to take you with it.” — Jim Collins, former editor of Yankee magazine, from “Tips for Reporters”
“I like to insert myself in situations – identified as a journalist but not necessarily working on a story – to educate myself. After my book Random Family came out, I spoke at conferences for social workers and youth workers. At these conferences, I signed up for every mailing list, so I’d receive notices for their workshops. One was called “How to Handle Traumatized Children.” I attended, not knowing whether it would become a story, but I was sure that by the end of five days there I would have 10 story ideas. An idea might be a simple profile of an interesting social worker. Or it could be an analysis of how the skill sets that social workers are encouraged to adopt both liberate and confine them.” — Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family, from “Stories Are Everywhere”
“I think many of the best stories come from wandering around a city and wondering what the hell is going on.” — NPR business reporter Adam Davidson