There’s a noted scene in Pulp Fiction where Jules and Vincent quit their arguing, at least temporarily, to get into character. The two hoodlums go on to kill a room full of thieves. I, too, have to get into character. But to write.
I’ve started a new article for a magazine that’s new to me. This time I’m not on spec (internal link) , this time it’s a traditional assignment. For me, an article really doesn’t come into focus until I imagine a hook or an angle. Some idea or element that can echo throughout the piece. A good lead is also a good way to start. Where to begin?
You can’t go wrong with history in a non-fiction article. Begin at the beginning. This doesn’t mean you have to go in chronological order for the rest of the article, it just means to supply enough history for context at the beginning. If you have a really strong lead you can make it into a hook. If you mention, say, Stanley Livingston in the opening sentence, find a way to refer to him in the middle. And then another reference in the last paragraph or sentence, preferably in the context of summing up the piece.
Another way to make an article come into focus is to write headlines for it. The editor will probably pick their own headline, but if you can encapsulate your article into one sentence, then you’re on your way. Come up with five or six headlines to see what works well. Your editor may, in fact, ask for you to provide possible headlines, on the idea you know your material best.
Here’s what I submitted for my January, 2016 article in Rock&Gem Magazine. (internal link) They are all rather stilted:
A Turquoise Tale – A Field Trip to Dig at The Royal Royston Claim Near Tonopah, Nevada
A Turquoise Odyssey to Tonopah, Nevada – A Gold Prospector Comes to Love and Learn About the Gemstone
A Turquoise Adventure – A Field Trip to The Royston Mining District Near Tonopah, Nevada
Here’s what the editor finally decided on. Much better:
A Nevada Turquoise Adventure – Collecting at the Royal Royston Claim
Well, I could give you more examples. But I’ve got to get into character.