Story Framing: Four Vital Ingredients

Framing a story is like building a house. Just as you determine how many rooms the house should have, you focus on the main idea of your story and what you want to say. A poorly framed story is vague and pointless, and your writing suffers. Good adjectives cannot make up for a bad story or bad idea.

“This is a tool (not a rule) to get a handle on the story and break it down,” Roberts said. “Framing makes the story easier to write. If you lay the foundation, you’re free to be a much better writer.”

One of the leaders in the training movement across the country, Roberts had conference participants pick a story and find ways to make it better. Focus the story by deciding the main idea and, after reporting, run the information through this checklist: news, context, impact and human dimension.

  • News is the event, new information, basic facts; it tells the reader what happened.
  • Context is the story’s background and history, its relationship to things around the news, the bigger picture; it tells readers what’s normal, surprising or how similar things are dealt with elsewhere.
  • Impact tells readers what the news affects or changes, now and in the future; it tells readers who benefits, who suffers and what they can do about it.
  • Human dimension illustrates or portrays how the story effects the lives of real people; it provides details, textures, emotions, colors to convey experience.

Michael RobertsStory Framing: Four Vital Ingredients (Poynter)