Saturday, May 9, 2009

"How to Build a Selling Article" by Michael Brewer

Like most of you, I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years: short-order cook, parking attendant, library shelver, apartment cleaner… Oh, yeah, and I was a drug runner for a while. (I delivered prescriptions for Davis Drugstore in a powder-blue VW Beetle. Drug dealing didn’t pay as well as you might think.)

Nowadays, I preach and write and teach, but my first paying work was helping my dad on construction sites. Dad built houses for a living, and I often worked with him on weekends and during the summer break from school. I’m not particularly gifted with hammer and saw, but I guess all that framing and trimming influenced the way I see things. My book Lessons from the Carpenter from WaterBrook is a loving look at Jesus and how his years as a carpenter might have shaped his preaching and ministry.

One of the workshops I’m leading at the KCW Conference starts from a similar place. If a magazine article were a building project, how would we go about it? What floor plan would work best for the material we want to include? Like houses, most magazine articles follow a carefully selected blueprint. For instance, there’s the Chronology approach and the Inverted Pyramid and the Motivated Sequence. The names may sound odd, but mastering these blueprints is easy. As we review them, you’ll have Aha! moments when you say to yourself, “Oh, sure, I’ve seen that in print.”

You’ll also need an inviting front door for your article—an engaging hook that makes the reader want to enter into your ideas and information. The writer can choose from among a number of standard front door styles such as the Question, the Multi-Example, the Startler, the Quotation, or Personal Involvement. Which opening will best suit your style as a writer and fit well with the floor-plan of your article?

On the other end, you’ll also want to install a back door to send your reader happily on his/her way. What is your goal? To remind the reader of what you’ve covered? To leave him inspired or comforted? To motivate her to action? To bring a smile? Your back door will guarantee that you achieve the desired effect.

Whew! Are we finished yet? Not quite.

We still need to personalize our house— Uh, I mean our article. The voice or style we adopt will be crucial in touching the thoughts and feelings of our reader. Even more important is slant—deciding what to tell and what to leave out, determining what to emphasize, and cultivating ideas for future articles that will emerge from our original research and thinking.

Is that it? Nah, that’s just the teaser.

To get the hands-on, practical, down-and-dirty stuff, you’ll need to join me in my workshop in Elizabethtown.

I’ll save you a seat in the front.

Brewer is author of four books. He is a full-time pastor in the Presbyterian Church and adjunct professor of religious studies at Northern Kentucky University. See a review of Brewer's book here. Visit his website for more on his other books.

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