Monday, January 15, 2007

50 Article Structures

Presented by Prof. Dick Bohrer

First sentence contains the essential point of the paragraph or section or article. It answers all the readers questions at once. In news stories, it tells the who, what happened, where, when, how and sometimes “wow.”
This method works well in biographical studies. Open my chapter on inverted pyramids on my website ( under how to write articles and find Bob Hope’s biographical article on Bing Crosby. It uses this structure with telling effect.

This story will begin with the mention of that single feature and in successive paragraphs will develop the details of the story to the conclusion. It may be done in inverted pyramid or chronological structure—really one of the many structures that follow..

This mentions two features in the first paragraph (possibly in the first sentence) and then will develop first the one feature and then the other.
Half-way through the article, it will revert to the first feature again for more development before it turns to the second feature. This will add details that were not important enough for the primary statement but which are nonetheless significant. The structure may turn again once more near the end to the first and then the second feature before concluding.

This story will mention three features in the first paragraph (possibly the first sentence) and then will develop each of the three in turn, one after the other. Sometimes, a writer will choose to put each feature in a paragraph of its own here in the beginning.
Half-way through the article or so, the writer will revert to the first feature again for more development before turning to the second and then the third feature.
The article may go through the three once more before it concludes to add further details not covered earlier. It may not.
The conclusion will restate the three features, but it should do so in reverse order so the reader won’t be bored by another retelling. Mention the third feature first, then the second, then the first last. This gives a new, fresh look to the three.

This may be handled in various ways—as salient feature, composite, summary, round-up. It will be a major story with many main ingredients. Your skillful handling of the structure you choose will help you write a story of great length—should you choose.

When the several feature has one main, major item that can be emphasized above the others, we call it the salient feature. Mention it first. That mention make take 10 paragraphs. Let it.
Mention the other features in the paragraph following the salient feature. In the next paragraph tie into the event showing how they are related to the subject matter of the story. Then in turn, go through the details of each feature.
Here again, you may wish to go through the series three times to give less and less significant details or a more expanded presentation of the story as a whole.
Sometimes, the salient feature will be so significant that it will have to be developed at length . Let’s say a war hero or Miss America or a significant political personality will be the main speaker in a a convocation at a state fair. Begin there and give the significant information before you bring up the related features of what else will occur—a parade, a queen-crowning, ribbons given, coming events.
So you have 10 (let’s say) paragraphs on the salient feature. One paragraph on other events and then one paragraph identifying the “what-where-when” needed. Then present each of the other main events in turn, using as many paragraphs as you need.
You might wish to come back and go through each one again. Should you do it a third time, use the reverse order there.

The composite structure will have two or more main features in the first paragraph and a summary of the other features in the second. The “where-when-how-why” details necessary to the story will come in the third paragraph. Then, again, in turn, the features will be developed.
In such long stories, it is very permissible to introduce new summary statements deep in the article with further development coming from them. Just don’t stray away from the essential theme of the article.

The summary story and the round-up are similar in that both have the same kind of material to cover. The summary will take several events and summarize what they have in common. These structures are often used to tell a multiple-casualty story or a multiple-action event. The summary structure will summarize the event in the first paragraph (40 people died in accidents across the state on the Fourth of July or Hurricane Ida tore across the state Friday, killing 29 people and causing $3 million in damage).
The next paragraphs will list the events, giving a general overview of traffic deaths, drownings, fireworks deaths and injuries each in turn.
The next series of paragraphs will summarize in greater detail other aspects of the event.

The round-up article will begin with a general overview lead as in the summary article. As it goes into the deaths from traffic, then from drowning, then from fireworks, it will present each death individually in its own inverted pyramid structure.
This structure could be well used for articles about soldiers who fall in battle or ships that have sunk off barrier reefs or prizes handed out at school.

Begin at the beginning and go to the end. No flashback. The first sentence should startle or hint. You want significance. Threat. You want to tweak the reader’s interest in reading on.
Reverse chronology? Begin at the end (used in sports) to tell the outcome, the final score. Then last second drama. Then last five minutes. Then final quarter. Then half time and onward. Then go back to the beginning of the game and do an overview.

Begins with a general 5W statement of what happened in the event, naming no names, using no proper nouns. It tells what happened to someone—a taxi driver made a wrong turn Saturday night and drove his cab off a waterfront pier.
The second paragraph gives details with names, ages, addresses, dates—all the material we need to know what happened to whom, where, when, why and/or how.
The third paragraph will begin a chronological retelling of the event and the first verb in that initial sentence will be in the past perfect tense: Swanson had driven to the waterfront earlier that night . . . Retell the entire story chronologically to the end.

Your first sentence may contain only the then with your second sentence containing the now. Or you may put them both in the first sentence. Or you can begin with a narration of events THEN and conclude with a narration of consequential events NOW, taking many paragraphs for each. Here are two suggestions for first sentences:
Housewives cooling lemonade today need only press a button to cascade ice cubes in their glass. But one lifetime ago, only the ice man at the door could cool a lemonade.
Housewives cooling lemonade today have it easy compared to the way their mothers had to do it only one lifetime ago.
This structure is great for comparisons. Treat both at the beginning of the article and then develop each one in turn, once, twice, three times adding more details and anecdotes as you go.

Your entire article can be one anecdote after another covering a given theme. Two girls cross the Atlantic in a rowboat or a kidnapped boy returns or stories Grampa loved to tell or new books published this week could comprise your anecdotal article.
Some writers begin with a string of three or four anecdotes bearing on the topic and follow with a statement giving the theme of the article before they continue chronologically or with one of these other methods.
Or insert a string of three or four anecdotes in the body of the article to illustrate the thesis you are presenting.
You could insert short comments or reflections between each one or not.
Family stories work well in this structure.

This is commonly used in many Christian magazines because Christ has brought so many people solutions to peoples’ problems.
The problem will be stated at the beginning of the article and will be supported with an anecdote or two. A biographical sketch of the main character will be followed by anecdotes showing with a summary ending how the problem was solved.

This structure explores in depth each of the two elements without switching back and forth. All the ramifications of the cause will be given and then all the effects. It may contain anecdotes and, if it concerns a person, it may contain a biographical sketch.

Do a sentence outline of your article , presenting all your points. Then take each point to be the first sentence of a section. Each section begins with a topic sentence from your outline that states a significant point. In picture form, the article will look like a series of long inverted pyramids
Be careful to limit the development of each section to the material found in its first sentence from your outline.

In this structure, you prepare the reader for the main point of the section, state the point and then develop it, giving other details and/or ramifications until you begin working up to your next point. Then you do it again. Pictorially, this looks like a pyramid sitting on an inverted pyramid. We build up to the main point and then develop it within the section or paragraph. Many textbook authors use this method in the development of long paragraphs or sections in their chapters.

The pyramid structure is the anecdotal structure where the punch line comes at the end of the story. The whole article might be one large pyramid or you might have a string of pyramids. This can be used in biographical articles where you present pyramids that make significant statements about the character. Refer to my lessons on article writing in my website. The lesson on “repeated pyramid” gives a sample article about the golfer Jack Nichlaus.

In this article, you include yourself, describing how you entered the house and waited for the celebrity to join you. You report what you see and tell the conversation as it occurs when your subject appears. You will probably use a chronological narrative form.
You will have to choose whether you cover the event as it happened or whether you pick and choose what was said to keep like subject matter with like.

This is an unstructured article. It is the recording of the rambling thoughts of the writer on a certain topic or series of related topics. The sentences will be intelligent enough, but there need not be any deliberate evidence of an outline at all. The text may wander from point to point without paying attention to the rigors of time and space.

This article is written the way we write plays only in this case you would begin with a summary statement explaining the topic and who the participants are who will discuss it.
Then you present the article like a play script, indicating the name of the speaker (first or last name only) followed by a colon and his contribution.
This kind of article is used to cover group interviews where several people will have opinions on the topic. The interplay of opinions is handled in either a tailored fashion or an untailored one. The writer may cut and paste related opinions together from the entire conversation (tailored fashion) or he may allow the repartee to ebb and flow as it naturally occurred (untailored).

We use this method at the end of an article when a great deal of information needs to be inserted briefly. It can be used to record an overview of what happened at a meeting where the main topics discussed are developed one after another. Or if other topics or decisions need to be mentioned, handle it with this.
In other action, the council:
· required all meter maids to weak pink tennis shoes
· recalled the mayor and six members of his staff
· chose a confetti engineer to oversee celebrations

This can be written in chronological narrative. It will begin with a significant hook to attract the interest of the reader. Some personal experience articles are written in Frame and Flashback (which see).

This is like a problem and solution article, but it takes the reader through a series of failures before it arrives at its “come-to-realize” conclusion.
I had a problem . . . I tried this solution . . . It failed . . . I tried that solution . . . It failed . . . I was desperate . . . I couldn’t go on like this . . . I had to do something . . . I tried one last time . . . I failed . . . But then, and only then, I realized what had been wrong all the time . . . Now I saw the light, the truth . . This is what I found . . . I’m cured . . . I’ll never be the same . . . I’m writing this so that others will not have to go through what I went through.

25. HOW TO
This article is precisely that. It tells the reader interestingly and logically how to do something. It may describe the forest before defining each tree; but when it comes to its recounting of the method, it must be as clear as a recipe. You must begin with an overview before going into a step-by-step presentation of how to do something.

This article is written with unusually colorful and emotional verbs. It throws the weight all to one side and tries its best to persuade and then convince the reader that its theses are the right ones. It ignores logic but is not illogical. It arouses sympathies and animosities. It is a call to action.

This turns on the light and exposes frauds and perfidies and unrighteousnesses wherever they occur. It is written in a thoroughly logical manner as if a lawyer were presenting a brief. It must document its accusations. It must be underwritten rather than overwritten. Its verbs will not be emotional; they’ll be factual and not rousing. The over-all effect may be rousing.
Certainly, those exposed will be aroused!
But this is the kind of article that lawsuits rise out of. Any writer must be careful.
The first sentence will cut to the heart of the issue. The evidence revealed may be in inverted pyramid structure like the one presented in the outline article (above).

Staccato. Nouns. Verbs. Outline of key facts. Crammed into short space. Repetition. One or two word phrases in each sentence. Virtually all these structures are developed on my website in either the article lesson series or the opinion ones.

Legato. Stream of consciousness. Brain storm. Quick writing. Highlight facts. Separate each fact or act with an ellipsis.

Clean. Direct. To the point. No clutter. Simple sentences (all of the subject does all of the verb). Choose a memory. Your first day of . . . .

31. ABC
Perhaps one of the cleverest ABC treatments belongs to the “ABZ” book of the late Shel Silverstein. Full articles of this can become tedius. All fall prey to the six deadly letters that are difficult to include: J K Q V X Z. But as a novelty feature, the ABC article can provide some amusement.
Begin with an introductory summary sentence: I’ll never forget the kids I played with in grammar school. I use the alphabet to remember them. Alice Smith . . . Brenda Jones . . . Carl Jenssen . . .
Remember the games we played in our old neighborhood when we were kids? We had an alphabet of games: Allee, allee, all in free. Blind man’s bluff. Come over, Rover, come over. Each addition would be accompanied by comment telling why it belonged in the series.

Howard L. Chase’s “Anguish Languish” is a book of his stories where he retells our favorite children’s stories in puns. Every word is a pun. “Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock florist.” Read out loud quickly it makes complete sense. Only then.
Or “The Froazen Moose” by Gene Coghlan who wrote it on a lark and sent it to Harper’s Magazine. The editors printed it as written, realizing its saturation of misspelled words and tone of a codger gave it a charm it could not have if they correctly spelled every word. It is included in my lessons on how to write articles in the chapter on “sheer nonsense.”
Don’t make dialect too hard to read. Some leave out a certain letter or negative prefixes to achieve novelty.

Write in the style of “The Cat in the Hat.” “This is the house that Jack built.” “Dick and Jane.” You need to choose a style that is immediately recognizable.
Joan Mills wrote about the first day of school in an article that Reader’s Digest picked up.
See Mother. Mother is sleeping.
“Jump up, Mother,” says Father. “Jump up. Today is the first day of school.” The events of the day follow in the Dick and Jane structure.

This structure is the basis of the interview when one is presenting facts in a novel way. It can be the basis of an article when you already know all the facts. Ask and answer yourself. Inserting the letters “Q” and “A” is not necessary. You can use this method when you want to rewrite news. Write naturally. Your article could be you the adult interviewing you the child or you, the child, interviewing you, the adult. Be an attorney or minister or principal asking about your life.
Use it in an article that probes a coach’s reasoning why he/she isn’t creative in an effort to win or when a pastor refuses to preach hell and damnation.
Use it when there is an issue that is troubling the public to bring answers everyone wants to know.

Here you use a time sequence. You could begin with the 5 Ws and include a WOW. Diary can be used to cover one significant event where people are sitting around waiting for something of consequence to be revealed. Sports writers use it to build up to the final score. Writers of tragedies use it to trace the events that led up to the climax.
With this structure, your reader relives as the main character retells what happened each moment.
The time sequence can be by the minute, the ten minutes, the hour, the day, the month—any time period the writer wishes to use. Tell in narrative form what happened within each time slot.
Naturally, diary will have to cover a significant event so the reader will care to read and keep reading.

Clever writers refer to old time stories like David and Goliath to heighten contrasts between contestants. Sometimes news events and exciting games are retold in the style of an old tale.

Retell news by reliving it in conversation. The reader needs to know whether the conversation actually occurred as you wrote it. For your own protection, you need to check with the living person you are quoting to ascertain the accuracy of the quote.
If you have written an obviously contrived conversation with generic characters, you don’t need to take this precaution.
You can take a story out of the news and build a conversation around it if you don’t mention any names. A woman who tried to leave a store here today found herself stopped at the door as officers pointed to the bulge at her belly under her dress.
“She’s stealing a basketball,” one of the clerks told the officer. It turned out she was pregnant. But the conversation at the time makes delightful reading.
Remember to always use “said” in the tags and put the said verb after the subject: always “he said” or “she said.” Using “affirmed,” “reiterated,” “charged,” or any of the 200 synonyms for said mark an amateur.
If only two people are involved in the conversation, you do not have to include a tag with every statement; but you do have to insert a new paragraph. Read my chapter on the conversational article for further details.

This is the no-man’s-land of article writing. You are simply covering a sliver of life. There is not even a need to name the characters, but we usually do. There is also no need for a point or conclusion. But what you tell must have significance.

Begin as near the ending as possible, working up to just before the climax. Then, with a transition sentence, such as “How did I ever get into this mess?” flash back to the origins of the problem: At this point, you must use PAST PERFECT TENSE in your first verb—Charlie had left the house that morning thinking he would be gone for just an hour.
When the flashback catches up to the beginning, complete the climax and move to the end.
This is an effective method for the personal experience article because it begins with strong action but stops before the resolution. This catches and holds the reader’s interest—and the editor’s.

Plant something important at the beginning and pick it up at the end. This is used in many articles to provide unity. What was mentioned in the lead paragraph gets referred to again in the conclusion.
It may be the mention again of significant nouns or the resolution of a conflict or solving of the beginning problem.
As with baseball, everything starts and ends at home plate.
A quest? Someone leaves home to find happiness and returns home to find it there. The article follows, detailing each destination as the protagonist makes his search.
Is a child lost? The mother goes to a neighbor who sends her to a teacher who sends her to a policeman who sends her home. “Jackie! You’re home! I thought you were lost!!”

This method is used when one person or problem gathers another and the two a third and so on as the article progresses. Like “Little Half Chick” and “The Bremen Town Musicians” and “Turkey Lurkey” with the gang going on to do great things. This can be used as explorers are gathered to go search for Noah’s Ark or the Holy Grail. Perhaps students are massing to go talk to City Council. Perhaps neighbors are building support to protest an illegal takeover. What begins with one or two, swells to an army.

A statement of consequence is given in or near the lead and repeated in the body of the article at least three more times. This method is used when the writer wants to impress his reader with a fact he won’t forget. This may be used with any number of structures already mentioned.

As with a store catalog where item after item is shown or described, catalog structure stacks the pack with item after item after item. The items bear on the topic, of course. They can be people, places, things. They can be words or birds or herds or Kurds. They can be things one family did to keep the children happy at home during summer vacation. They can be a mother’s wail at the things her family leaves undone.

Surprise ending is just that. It presents a problem that gets solved in a surprising way. Like an article with suspended interest, it will take us into action, often an act of violence, and then retreat to fill us in on the background of the event. The article then approaches the ultimate action again and completes the telling with an unexpected conclusion.
It can be written like a single feature or a chronology or a frame and flashback or a come-to-realize.

This is an effective device to use when covering a speech or sermon. It is a great way to advertise the ministry of a local pastor. Some newspapers are happy to include one on a regular basis.
In the opening paragraphs you identify the problem or subject being addressed, the participants and the five w’s. If the article opens with part of a quote of significance in the lead, follow it with statements that explain it.
If the article opens with statements about what was said, alternate those statements with quotes.
The quotes may support the statements (but not repeat what they said) or the statements may support the quotes, expanding on what has been said.

This technique can be used both in fiction and non fiction. Following an introduction that sets the scene, names the participants, suggests both the problem and the desired solution, the action paragraphs alternate with the reflection paragraphs as the author or narrative character thinks about the problem.
See the chapter in the feature writing lessons for an expansion of this idea and for illustrations of it in practice.

This article details “threat realized.” The hero sinks in his effort to win something or rescue something or someone. At the point when he is sunk, rescue comes. It is better to have him rescue himself or be the means of triumph himself. It’s weak to have an arm come out of the sky to pluck him to safety.
It can detail an actual rescue where the Coast Guard finally finds the stricken vessel and rescues the helpless
Or it can explore a failure followed by a solution. Generally, the structure will be a chronological narrative.

Where the interview article has a focus regarding a time, a space, an action, an opinion, the biography sweeps through the entire life. Use it to present what makes that person tick, what has made him/her the person of the moment. Dig for gold. See through snow. Many of the structures presented will fortify the presentation of a life story.
Realize that this article can be a section of a person’s life and not from cradle to grave.

This must be limited to a specific incident or a short series of incidents. The article is not a book. You cannot regale your reader with all the details, all the moles, all the illnesses and accidents, all the failures, all the suffering you’ve endured in life. You must limit your first-person account to things that really matter.
You may chronicle them chronologically without flashback or you may approach the crisis first and then circle back to tell how you got into that predicament. That circle will give background and identity to you as a person.
Give insights no biographer could get out of you. Your style should be personal—warm, intimate.
Remember, you probably have a word count you have to stay within.
Try not to applaud your every thought and action.
Give credit to God but don’t make it showy.

This has been an overview of the material presented in my 72 copyrighted writing lessons on my website.
Dip in freely. I’m asking no charge. I’m a writing teacher with a burden that people pick up the torch I’m throwing and run with it.
Prof. Dick Bohrer, M.Sc., M.A.k


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