Anatomy of a story — Student Activities Fair

Today, instead of doing a critique of the newsletter I thought to do another anatomy of a story post. I saw a couple of stories that needed more help to make them better.

Here’s two big things I’m seeing.

  1. Three sources. You’ve got to talk to three people who can add to your story. Three random people? NO! Three people that can talk about some aspect of your story? Yes. That’s three minimum.
  2. Ask them questions that they can be quoted on. I’m seeing a lot of paraphrasing of things that should be quotes and quotes that should be paraphrased. The quote, “I like tea.” is a paraphrase. The quote, “I like tea because it reminds me of my childhood at grandma’s house” is a quote.

So let’s get to it. I’m going to use the story about the Student Activities Fair.  

Although attendance was not officially kept, more than 2,000 students are estimated to have attended the Student Activities Fair on Wednesday

This lede needs work. Saying that attendance was not officially kept in the same sentence saying more than 2,000 students makes no sense. Here’s how to rewrite this:

More than 2,000 students and more than 170 student organizations attended this semester’s Student Activities Fair on Wednesday in the University Center.

See how we get to the story quickly and have some pretty big information. 2K students 170 students

The fair was sponsored by Student Activities and Organizations.

For a second sentence, it’s skimpy. And it doesn’t belong there. This needs more meat. Try it this way.

Student organizations — from Greek to professionally-affiliated crowded in and around the Palo Duro room to give students information about their groups.

This sentence gives more detail from the lede. It’s more specific. And it leads into the quote (usually the 3 graph in the inverted pyramid structure).

So it’s right here where we have a quote. We don’t have one from Roy Rucker Jr., who is in this story.  For the sake of this example, I’ll make up another store and quote.

“This is a really cool event to get the word out about our club,” Manny Tanner, president of the Cool Awesome Club, said.  “We are really new to UTA and we want to get some new members.”

While I have the luxury making this quote up, this isn’t so far fetched. The questions I would ask to help me get this kind of quote would be: What do you hope to gain from this event? What is your goal?  See how those questions are better than what do you think about this event? You want to ask questions that will give you answers deeper than, “oh, I think this is cool.”


So the next graph or two is usually when the nutgraph happens. The nutgraph is where we tell the reader why this story is important. It routinely has the context. Here’s how to handle it for this story.

The fair, sponsored by the Student Activities and Organizations, takes place at the beginning of every semester. Organizations register for the event to showcase their services or opportunities. The event, which started in 1981, is a chance for a more face-to-face contact.

Some good context right? We know it happens every semester, we know that orgs have to register before hand and we know that it start in 1981. How do I know all this? It’s on their website. Very simple.

Now this next graph is one of my favorite to write, this is where I describe the atmosphere at the event. Since I went I can write about this. When you cover events, you want to describe what is going on. In my notebook, this the first thing I write down before talking to anyone. I use my 5 senses to take notes. Here’s an example of how to take those notes and turn them into a short graph.

The University Center was jam-packed as students bumped into one another to get more information. Booths lined the walls in the Palo Duro room, along the hallways leading up to it, and even outside of Starbucks. Each table was decorated with goodies that fill small plastic bags — pens, pencils, stress balls, and even granola bars.

I could add more but I’ll stop there. See how this gives the reader a better sense of place? Great! Now we continue!

The next graph or two  is a transition to the next quote. Now we already have a student but let’s get another one or two. For this one, I’ll use what was in the story.

For Roy Ferritz, the crowded hallways didn’t deter him from attending.  

“It was fun, really packed especially since it was inside,” political science senior Roy Ferritz said. “Overall, it was great experience.

This was the second year Society of Community Leaders attended and promoted their organization, biology senior Jennifer Moreira said.  She has seen an increase in membership because of  previous fair  attendance.

But wait! Where’s the quote! There isn’t one in the story so I don’t know if Jennifer’s goal is to get more members or just for the organization to be more visible. This is a quote set up with no quote and it drives the readers crazy. You’re making a promise that you’re not keeping. Don’t do that.

So now that we’ve dissected this story, there’s some things missing. A big thing missing. We don’t have any of the organizers talking in this story! What did they think of the turn out? It was kinda crowded, so were they concerned that they were too popular? This story needed a person in charge speaking. They were there so there’s no excuse for not talking to them.

See now how to put this type of story together? You have to take it step by step. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but if you take the writing of the story by section, you’ll know what to do.

Let me know if you need help!

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About Icess Fernandez Rojas

Icess is a writer, professor, and blogger. She is a graduate of Goddard College's MFA program. Her work has been published in Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective's anthology Notes from Humanity. Her nonfiction has appeared in Dear Hope,, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, and is also a Kimbilio Fellow. She's currently working on her first novel.