5 Reasons Reporters Make Good Writers… Most of the Time ­

by Guest Blogger | 10 comments

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This guest post is by Brennan Reid. Brennan is an aspiring author with two novels set to launch in late April. Follow his blog, brennanreid.com, to read his thoughts on writing as a craft, self-publishing, and marketing. Thanks so much, Brennan!

Leads, nut grafs, and the infamous six W's—who/what/when/where/why and how—set the everyday newsflash apart from creative work. Or do they?

Reporters make good writers

Photo by Roger H. Goun (Creative Commons)

Let’s look at a comparison:

The Newsflash

Today in St. Louis, MO, this blogger found himself struggling to develop a journalistically inclined example of newsflash writing for readers. In this blog, he will provide evidence that supports reporter-style writing and why it’s an effective tool for authors and accepted by readers.

The Creative Take 

I’ve always struggled starting stories. I ask myself, “What’s the most important thing about my character? How can I make an opening memorable, worthwhile, and lead readers onto the next paragraph?” My background is in journalism, a profession I landed on accident and never officially studied (my BFA argued otherwise). But as a current freelancer and lifelong reader, I’ve come to learn that opening stories and chapters with meaty information is the most effective way to A) Write concisely, B) Plan the flow, and C) Set the scene and action for readers.

Effectively, both openings say the same thing with varying levels of detail.

What Can Writers Learn from Reporters

But as an author, reporter, or everyday writing enthusiast, how can you post up the details front and center and retain the entertaining prose that sets it apart from obituaries and high school basketball game recaps?

1. Reporters Set the Scene

It’s hard to read a newsflash and not get a sense of where we are. The same needs to be said for creative work.

I struggled with this while writing my current soon-to-be-self-published projects. I kept trying to hide, tease, and ensnare my readers (a pair of editors). Ultimately, my goal was to trick them for the “oh” moment. The “oh” moment never came.

A narrative story differs from other art forms because there is nothing to look at. Unless you’re e e cummings, of course, and write calligrams (don’t). It’s up to the first lines in every chapter, section, and scene to illustrate where we are so us readers can put semantics over the syntax, watch characters move, and visualize the happenings. Reporters are great at this.

2. Reporters Write with Concision

This isn’t Victorian England and no one much cares to read lengthy, semi-colon heavy prose that loops around and around until the eventual, final period closes out a statement, comment, thought, and hopeful point.

Take a page from Hemmingway and say what you can in the simplest way possible. Reporters, or at least reporters from a certain pre-web era, were concerned with inches and word counts. While many of us would undoubtedly break down if some divinity cut out the last few paragraphs of a story because “It took up too much room,” it’s usually in a reader’s best interests to keep it short.

It’s like a long, overtly complex algebraic equation chiseled down to a simple arithmetic problem. Readers are more likely to interpret and visualize how your characters dance through scenes when words, sentences, and paragraphs are straight forward. Leave “trying to impress” to love letters, dear poets.

3. Reporters Get the Facts 

A trained reporter will report the facts. Between these “according to him at here near this time when this happened” statements, or attributions, are quotes. The quotes are seldom the most interesting thing about news articles, unfortunately, and that’s because a 200-word report on a car accident is written in exactly five minutes.

Reporters can’t invent what people say but they do have license to ask, “Can you rephrase that for me? What about your tears and what did it smell like?” Do they? Not often, but they should. This is called leading an interviewee and it may or may not be ethical? As mentioned, I never did take a class on reporting.

Anyway, a novelist or creative writer has the only authority over who says what and what scenes are seen on screen (the text). The facts still need to be there, of course, and it’s the in-between that holds back an amazing story.

The facts need to be relevant, tied together in a progressive matter, and reflected upon by characters. It’s like writing a news brief on some conceptual plot thought up in your head.

4. Reporters Observe

Authors are observers. It’s up to you how to tell your story, though reporters have to keep them highly objective and removed from any sense of personality. There are exceptions, however, several that stand out from my experiences being a journalist and reading award-winning stories.

It’s the odd, beautifully exact details that transmute boring black and white text into a crafty, fact-filled story. Most editors love cutting a reporter’s most proud work which is just something we deal with, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving it a try.

As an example, two years ago I was doing a house-mom magazine story on a vintage record store in Indiana. I had a bit more creative freedom but I still had to keep an objective point of view. Know what I did? I asked my characters (interviewees) extremely off-the-wall questions to capture the essence of their little shop.

How do I spell your last names? Is that dust I smell? What color is that wallpaper? What are the terms of the lease? Can you tell me more about the wallpaper? How hot do you think it is?

Did I bug them? Absolutely. But the store was so obscure it was a challenge to figure out A) What it was, B) Why anyone would care, and C) If it was worth my time. So now I had my objective facts reported to me by other people. They were then usable in the story’s lead. This brings us to the next point.

5. Reporters Shoplift

Writers, reporters, and storytellers are just really literate shoplifters. We find details, take them, write them down, use them. The most rewarding part about my time journalisming is meeting people and absolutely using them in my creative work. No, I’m not saying I use names, places, or actual events. But the best writers are on the ground-level and learn how to create characters and situations by being around characters and getting into situations.

The Imminent “Most of the Time”

The headline says “Most of the Time,” so now for the warning I give writers who do too much reporting as opposed to storytelling (a topic for another day):

Without your (or your projected) interjections, “prosey” descriptions, details, and internal dialogues, no one will be interested in your story. This doesn’t necessarily include nonfiction, of course, as there are countless examples of step-by-step, deliberately-written and factual successes out there.

Reporting, no matter how boring the subject matter, is an opportunity to turn the mundane into something worthwhile.

Do you think reporters make good creative writers? What do you think writers can learn from journalists?


Report a fictional scene. Start with the who, what, when, where, and why lead then lay out the plot/premise in the second paragraph. The scene should be told from an objective point of view and the 300 or so remaining words should be prioritized to report the most important actions first.

STOP after fifteen minutes. Whatever you can creatively write in fifteen minutes is likely close to the length of a news brief.

When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback for a few other fellow reporters… er… I mean writers.

Have fun!

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This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.


  1. gianna serex

    This was a really fun one to do! I liked it especially because I could see the article potentially even being IN my story. Thanks for the prompt.


    The North Ridge Prep varsity volleyball team suffered a huge loss Monday. And it wasn’t in any game. All twelve girls on the team, at varying grades from seniors all the way down to freshmen, were caught drinking at a house party on the previous Saturday. The tip-off? A social media post.

    According to assistant coach Jane Reeves, she and her son had been scrolling through his Facebook posts on Sunday when they came across a photo of two of the girls with cups in hand and beer cans on the counter next to them. On Monday, the team admitted they had been drinking, something North Ridge, and the law, has no tolerance for. Due to their actions, all twelve players were disqualified from play for the next month, essentially ending their promising season.

    “It’s tough to swallow,” said head coach Nick Ward. “Definitely hard to take. We were favorites to win Sectionals at the very least. I come in on Monday to find that all my girls are ineligible to play. With State coming up, we really couldn’t afford to suffer anything like this. This is beyond my control.”

    Ward plans to pull up the remaining girls from the junior varsity squad, who will play the match on Wednesday in the semifinals of the section tournament. If Ward were to forfeit this match, his entire team next year would also be ineligible for any post-league tournaments, regardless of whether or not they follow the rules in the future.
    “I will be speaking with my own team more about the consequences of their actions. Until then, I have a new team to coach.”

    • Kate Taylor

      This was a great news story. I could see it as a teaching tool. I shook my head while reading it as I thought about how kids feel so invincible and learn the hard way. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Kate Taylor

    What an entertaining way to exercise my writing skills! I want to go to Kansas and check out the scene!

    Flora Phenomenon

    Saturday morning cartoons
    were interrupted with an emergency news broadcast.

    Newscaster Tom Dickenherry reported.

    “We interrupt the normal broadcast to bring you the following breaking story. This just in. A young man is missing following what appears to be an astonishing and incredulous appearance of unnatural flora in the town of Biggending, Kansas.

    “Witnesses described the scene earlier in the day. The Bakerson farm, owned and operated by Peg Bakerson and her son, Jack appeared normal. Young Jack had been observed as he opened the gate of the pasture and was led their only cow through the gate and down the gravel road. Later in the day, neighboring witnesses reported that
    they heard a loud argument between Jack and a woman who they confirmed to be
    Jack’s mother. Witness also stated that they saw the woman go outside, throw
    some small items into the front yard, just over the porch railing. They
    observed her as she threw up her arms, shook her head, and then went back
    inside, slamming the door. Jack reportedly went outside appearing angry, as evidenced by his flailing arms, shaking fists and stomping feet. He was seen entering the barn.

    “Just after dusk, witnesses throughout the town reported signs such as seeing and feeling furniture moving, cupboard doors opening, dishes rattling, and even window panes cracking, all thought to be associated with a possible earthquake. Seismic graphs showed very little movement. Then, as was stated, an explosion was heard throughout the neighborhood. Witnesses stated that the explosion began as approximately thirty seconds of rumbling, not unlike thunder in the distance, followed by the loud reverberating boom.

    “What is astounding is what happened following the alleged quake and explosion. Eyewitnesses from a nearby farm spoke to our reporter Bob Telltale who is at the scene.


    “Tom, we’re here in Biggending, Kansas at the Bakerson farm. We are speaking with Carl and Doris Fibbers, neighboring farm owners. Doris, tell us about what you heard and saw at the Bakerson’s.”

    “Well, we knew something was wrong all day. Peg Bakerson never gets mad, but she was some angry at her son, Jack. Maybe it was because he took the cow away. He never brought Daisy back. That’s when Peg was yelling.

    “After supper, Carl and I were sitting on the porch; we do that every night until dark. We like to watch the fireflies. But, oh, what happened just before we went inside. The windows started rattling and inside I heard a couple of dishes fall and break. It
    lasted about a minute, I think. I ran inside to pick up the mess.”

    Carl joined the conversation, “You should’ve seen it. After what we thought was a quake, there was this sound, loud, like a train running under the ground and then, boom! I yelled to see if Doris was okay, and when she came out onto the porch, that’s when we saw it together.”

    “Oh my land! We did! This thing, a plant or something just shot straight up out of the ground. Up and up and up! We didn’t know what the heck it was! That’s when we called for help. Look! See it over there?”

    “I don’t know but it looks like, well, like a beanstalk, but I’ve never seen a beanstalk that gigantic! The thing is humungous!”

    “The last time Jack was seen was when neighbors reported observing him entering the barn on farm property. Police are investigating the disappearance of Jack Bakerson. FEMA has been informed of the alleged earthquake. During the investigation and until further notice, Bakerson Farm Road is closed to the public.

    “This is BobTelltale reporting to you from Biggending, Kansas. Back to you, Tom.”

    “Thank you, Bob. We have been live with Bob Telltale in Biggending, Kansas. He has been reporting on the disappearance of 18 years old, Jack Bakerson, following an alleged earthquake, explosion, and the unnatural growth of a gigantic beanstalk in the yard. We will bring you up to date with this breaking story on NewsCastNow at noon today. Thank you. We take you back to the regularly scheduled programming,now.”

    • gianna serex

      What a great article! You had me hooked the whole way through, and it wasn’t until the end that I realized it was Jack and the Beanstalk. That was great. I had this awesome “OHHHHH” moment when I finally began to piece it together. You kept the suspense up the whole way through so that the real secret wasn’t revealed until the very end. Great work Kate.

  3. debra elramey

    Sharing with my writing students. Thank you Brennan.

    • Brennan Reid

      That’s great to hear! I hope it turns out well!

  4. Wanda Kiernan

    Fairytale Land July 1 – The trial, presided over by Judge Judy, is the culmination of a two-week battle between the Queen, and her daughter-in-law, Cinderella over a blueberry tart-squashing incident.

    Cinderella is sticking to her story that the tart squashing was an unfortunate accident.
    The Queen is insisting that it was an act of pre-meditated violence, and is seeking compensation for the tarts, a broken heirloom tart plate, and the emotional scars suffered by seeing Cinderella in such a violent state. The violent scene continues to haunt her dreams.

    Cinderella contends that on the evening of June 18th, she and her husband, Prince Charming, were already late for a very important date. Feeling famished, she decided to get a little snack before embarking on the hour-long trip to Snow White’s annual “Bobbing for Apples Ball”. The
    horse drawn carriage and Prince Charming were already outside patiently waiting.

    Cinderella, slippers still in hand, ran into the kitchen and spotted the blueberry tarts. In an attempt to save a few minutes, she grabbed a tart with one hand, and tried to put a slipper on with the other.

    Somehow, in the mad rush she lost her balance. Trying to break her fall, she reached for the
    counter top, but her hand landed in the tart plate instead.

    She screamed, prompting the Queen to rush in only to see Cinderella futilely trying to keep herself and the tarts from falling. But she lost both battles as first the tarts fell to the floor, and then Cinderella fell on top of the tarts, the blueberry filling ruining her gown. Knowing that
    at this point it was too late to change into another gown and get to the ball on time, Cinderella began to cry inconsolably.

    The Queen contends that Cinderella, not being too happy living in the castle, and knowing how much the Queen loves blueberry tarts, took her frustrations out on the tarts, smashing them and an heirloom plate in the process.

    The Queen, tears of frustration welling up in her eyes, argued that Cinderella was a social climbing manipulator. “Of all the lovely girls I invited to the ball that night, she managed
    to sway my son into choosing her. She wasn’t even on the guest list! Had he only known she was just an orphaned stepchild playing dress up for one night, things may have turned out differently.”

    This cruel remark prompted the courtroom audience to jeer and hiss at the Queen for several moments until Judge Judy brought the proceeding to order.

    At this point Cinderella held up exhibit A, the ball gown she had been wearing the night of the tart squashing incident.

    The crowd gasped in horror at the sight of the blueberry stain on the back of the beautiful cream colored silk gown with delicate embroidery and pearled accents.

    Cinderella then read a brief statement from a forensics expert who concluded that the shape and placement of the stain could only be created by virtue of an accident.

    The Queen turned to Cinderella shouting expletives, wishing that she were not part of the family, and that she’d return to cleaning ashes where she belonged.

    After bringing the court to order again, Judge Judyfound in favor of Cinderella, and announced the case closed.

    In an after trial interview, Cinderella, with Prince Charming standing by her side, expressed sadness and dismay at her mother-in-law’s feelings towards her. “I never knew she felt like that. But we are going to try to work this out. I love living in the castle, and I love my mother-in-law.”

    The Queen refused to be interviewed. She pushed dejectedly past her son and daughter-in-aw, quickly entering her horse drawn carriage without looking back or acknowledging the crowd.

    However, a press release issued from the Queen’s office in time for this edition stated that, “The family has decided travel together to Emerald City for family counseling. It is the Queen’s hope that everyone can put this ugly incident behind them and live happily ever after.”

    • gianna serex

      I loved this. Despite the fantasy topic, the story itself felt very realistic. And that ending! I really loved how you incorporated a “happily ever after” in the end there. Nice work.

    • Sandra D

      Oh very creative idea and the court room was pulled off so well.

  5. Sandra D

    Fire in 2 story building, 4 apartments. Everyone made it out safely. Two are wounded and are being treated first and second degree burns at Mort’s Hospital. The fire fighters were on the scene within 10 minutes. They worked quickly on the fire and successly helped three people out who had been trapped in the building.

    A boy is said to have left a candle lit and it caught the curtains on fire, which resulted in the fire. But unfortunately the firefighters could not save the building which has become a heap of rubble. There is a gathering of neighbors around it, who are wondering what has happened and what is going to happen to the people living there. One of the tenants was an elderly couple living on a limited social security check. Another is a single mom with a ten year old son and 2 month old baby, and two other families. Hopefully these people will get better soon and also to move on without too much loss after the destruction of their home.



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