The Right Words To Make Good Stories Better, Plus Better Back Pages

1. Steal these ideas.

If you’re looking for inspiration in writing, photography, design, and storytelling structures, check out the finalists for the the American Society of Magazine Editors annual awards here.

Every year, I pick a few new magazines that have been nominated for general excellence and subscribe to them. Even if they cover topics I’m not usually interested in, they’re always worth the investment.

2. The exact words that will help you take stories from good to great.

How do you give feedback to make creative work better? Chuck the compliment sandwich. Here’s how we think about it at Capstone. We also love the ideas in this HBR story on the topic (do a search for the useful sidebar “The Right Way to Help Colleagues Excel.”)

3. Alumni weekend bingo.

Oh, man is this good. This back-page piece for the University of Chicago Magazine is clever and perfect. I love that it’s in the magazine, which will make even those not making the trek back to campus think fondly of their alma mater.

4. How to tell a story through time.

Over the years, I’ve heard from plenty of people who want to tell the story of a single student through time — from arriving as a first-year student to the moment of commencement. They’d like to tell the story over the course of several issues of the magazine, maybe one story a year, maybe one story a quarter.

But let’s be honest: this is a big gamble. Even the most well-vetted student is human. What happens when that student develops a substance abuse problem, drops out for a semester to take care of an ailing parent, or gets derailed with anxiety or depression? They — and you — probably don’t want that story broadcast to tens of thousands of people.

I recently heard one possible solution: storytelling through groups. In this 6-part series from Death, Sex, and Money called Hot Dates: Romance Right Now, a handful of single folks share a summer’s worth of dating in real time. The eight men and women carry the story over the course of a few months. It’s great because you hear a wide range of stories, get to know the general contours of dating today, and see relationships develop, evolve, and deepen (or end). But not every person is featured in every episode, taking the pressure off if they had an experience they’re not ready to share with the world.

Listen to the series and think about how you could adapt this approach in your own work.