6 non-traditional ways to tell stories

Standalone alternative story forms (ASF) do just what their name implies: They stand alone as independent stories, with no traditional story to accompany them. Like a standalone photo or graphic, the standalone ASF needs to be a complete story. It might be all the reader will see about the topic, particularly in print media.

Typically, a standalone ASF begins with some introductory text. This is similar to the lead on a news story, but it can be more conversational in tone. Direct address, such as, "Here's what you need to know," often works well.

Here are some examples:

  • Snapshot: This form gives an "at a glance" view of a person or place.
  • How-To: This form gives step-by-step instructions to readers about how to do something or create something.
  • Recap: Similar to a preview, this form breaks down an event such as a college graduation.
  • Preview: Similar to a recap, but looking forward to an event. Any recurring news -- the State of the Union address, the Kentucky Derby, a city council meeting -- is ripe for this sort of approach.
  • Game: Using the form of a familiar board game or puzzle can be an eye-catching way to convey information in a fun way. It helps if the reader can actually play the game, but it's not necessary. Because of its gimmicky nature, the game form shouldn't be used too often, and tone is important.
  • Bracket: Inspired by college basketball, the bracket sets up a competition among items to see which comes out on top. It's best used for light-hearted stories.

Taken from Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Creating Alternative Story Forms, a self-directed course by Andy Bechtel at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.

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