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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Writing Articles with Unique Slants: A Nonfiction Writing Exercise

Last week, WOW! team member Jodi Webb wrote an excellent blog post about getting your query noticed. If you missed it, check it out here. Today, I thought I'd continue the theme of queries with a writing exercise about creating unique article slants. (Hopefully, light bulbs will be going off above your heads soon!) I recently gave this writing prompt to my children's writers online class I teach for WOW! Here's the prompt:

An editor whom you've worked with before wrote an email to several writers and asked for someone to come up with a unique article idea to teach children water safety rules for the summer. She explained it's a topic that's been covered many times during past years in the magazine, but the managing editor thinks it's important to remind kids (and new readers) the importance of water safety in the summer. She invites you to turn in a query for an article with a different slant on water safety. The best idea/query will get the contract for the article.

I talk with my students about how important it is to cover subjects that have been written about excessively but that some readers new to the age group or magazine haven't read about before. I've been to conferences where editors talk about how they still need articles about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington (a subject that's been covered time and time again), but they need an article for kids with a new slant. I imagine the same is true for a magazine like Good Housekeeping--the editors still need articles about tips for saving money or household cleaning secrets, but the article slant needs to be new and original.

One of the best ways to think of new article slants is to just engage in old-time brainstorming techniques of lists or word webs or brain maps. I like to put my subject, such as water safety, in a circle in the middle of the paper, and then create branches off the center with any idea that pops into my mind whether it's been done before or not. I keep going until I get an idea that is new or fresh or important and then write my query. As a matter of fact, I did this very exercise for the next WOW! issue on fiction writing and came up with an article about dialogue tags, which Angela accepted and will be in the July/August issue.

If the above writing prompt doesn't fit your genre or freelance writing career, you can substitute almost any topic for water safety and get your creative wheels moving. Here's wishing you have many light bulbs go off this weekend!

post by Margo L. Dill,
photo by thomasbrightbill

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