This is is the million dollar question, the one I get asked most frequently: “What are you going to write about?”
My usual response is that I have a general idea of what the story might be about, but rarely know in full until it’s finished and published. It’s the people I encounter and research I do that transform the story and give it its final form.
I’m constantly on the lookout for “nuggets,” these little sound bytes, inconsistencies, or funny details that either throw my initial hunch for a loop or make me go, “Huh! This is way more interesting than what I originally had in mind.”
Nuggets point to something richer than what I’ve initially scratched up on the surface, show me places to dig deeper that will lead to the truest, most interesting story.
Sometimes these nuggets add a layer of texture to the story that’s already been mined. At other times they alter the story to be completely different from the one I set out to tell.
Glynn Washington, the storyteller behind radio show Snap Judgment, articulates this beautifully. Interviewed by journalist Daniel Alarcón in the Winter 2015 issue of California magazine, Washington had this to say about circling back on interviews to revisit stories:
“When we start an interview, we have an idea of where the interview is going to go. There’s a reason we’re talking to this person. We think we might know something of the story, and we’re looking for that person to tell it to us,” Washington said. “But then there’s the surprise, where he or she just took us somewhere the interviewer was not expecting…And we’re trying to tell stories that are really true to the person’s experience…And sometimes this great storyline we had thought out, that’s just not gonna work. That’s just not what happened. But maybe something else will.”
– Sara Hayden