Learn: How do I compose a Story?

Previous: What is a Discover Indiana Story?

How do I compose a title?

Titles should be short, clearly descriptive and specific. In most cases, stories about places best known by their historic name should use the historic name as a title. Stories about places best known by their contemporary name should use the contemporary name as a title. Stories about people should use the person’s name as a title. An optional subtitle is useful when a story does not purport to be comprehensive of the entire timeline of a site or person’s existence. A subtitle can provide your reader a clue about the focus of your story. Subtitles can but need not be “catchy.” Don’t overthink it. Avoid clichés or puns.

How do I compose a story?

History isn’t simply about dates and names, it’s about people and their stories.  Stories should be engaging and give readers a sense of the lived experience of people in the past.  What was it like to be an African American jazz musician in 1920, or to visit Indiana Dunes on a summer Sunday afternoon? Great specific details can be hard to find, but they bring stories to life and transform them from a simple timeline of events to an actual story.

Keep it clear and concise!

  • Please begin with an opening sentence that orients the app user to where the place is, what they are seeing if they are physically there, and why it is significant.
  • Most narratives should be between 300 and 400 words in length.
  • Throughout the writing process, keep in mind that the end user will sometimes be standing at this site as they read. Engage them with their environment. 
  • Avoid quoting historic sources when the content is more appropriately paraphrased.
  • When quoting historic sources is appropriate, try to include a reference in the narrative, for example:  “In 1914, the Indianapolis Star reported …”
  • Include a works cited section at the end, but do not use footnotes.
  • Avoid the passive voice and use “to be” verbs sparingly: am, are, is was, were, be, become, became.
  • Remember that conciseness is not mere brevity: Detail and originality should still remain intact.

Make it special!

  • Before writing, ask yourself this question: What makes my stories unique, special, or significant? What makes it worth telling to the general public? Great stories go beyond the surface details. Many historical topics are full of interesting stories and it’s up to you to decide which one to bring to life. An article that tells a specific story is far more interesting than an encyclopedic summary.
  • Beginning a story should feel like the beginning of a journey with a destination in mind. Starting with a strong, specific detail is a good way to suck your reader in. Start your story on a pinpoint and spread out. Think about how the story will connect with the entire tour and its humanities theme(s). 
  • Consider opening the story with a “hook” – a compelling quote, surprising fact, or any element that can grab readers’ attention and encourage them to continue deeper into the piece.
  • Try to show rather than just say. Use examples that illustrate the importance or significance of a site, rather than simply stating “this is an important building.”
  • If writing a biographical story about a person, we encourage you to write a broader story about their impact beyond the specific location/site.
  • Extensive background on the history of a neighborhood, building or person may be interesting, but don’t forget to ask yourself: how does this help me tell the story I’m trying to write? Why would someone with no particular interest in this neighborhood/place/person get interested in reading my story?

We recommend that you look at existing Discover Indiana stories for ideas and approaches. Note, however, that some of the content reflects the project’s initial thrust, which used existing tours developed by the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, often focused on a specific type of building (for example, theaters) across the state. These are not the best models for our Discover Indiana II project. This phase of the project will be focused on community histories with more fully developed humanities themes, main narratives, and image captions. This method opens the way for more creativity and rich detail in storytelling connected to humanities themes.  

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