The following comes from Bruce Porter. It’s rare that a journalism prof. will offer advice in the form of lists, but he has been teaching at Columbia and Brooklyn college long enough to know how to get important ideas across succinctly.
1. Don’t be literary or lyrical
If it makes you feel like Walt Whitman inside you are probably being too self-conscious and that comes across in the writing. Aka, it’s crap.
2. Be specific: Don’t go into detail about the “blue sky” and the “white clouds.” Readers know what color the sky is, so don’t describe it for them. It’s the oddities that paint a scene. If you are describing a diner, don’t write about the booths and the counter. Mention the ketchup stain on the window or the cheeky writing in the men’s bathroom.
3. Make them do something: Use descriptions that move the story forward. Don’t just list things, make sure they are descriptions that help tell the story.
4. Be economical: Don’t let the reader know you are being descriptive, it should sneak its way in.
5. Create a backdrop: This is more about a type of description that should be used when setting the scene which helps tell the story. Describing the backdrop of a drug den will pay-off if you are writing a story about a drug dealer/user
6. Prove you were there: Careful description makes a scene more believable for readers. They know the reporter was on the scene.
7. Show me what you told me: If you write something vague go into the details that show the reader what you mean. Don’t expect them to understand abstract thoughts, they need concrete examples to move the story forward.
The following cost me $40,000 in tuition. I offer it to you for free (donations accepted)