Five steps to better TV stories

“It’s not about the beer,” says Boyd Huppert, describing an assignment to profile a successful local brewery. Instead, Huppert’s story focused on the family behind the business — tapping into a universal theme.

“My goal is to go out and cover a story to make someone care about it,” says Huppert, “make you laugh or shed a tear.”

The award-winning reporter shared five solid pieces of TV storytelling advice at the Excellence in Journalism conference in New Orleans.

1. Find your focus. Huppert says he always takes time on the front end to ask, “What’s this story about?” His ability to find that focus and to stick with it, helps even potentially mundane pieces, such as an assignment to show how the economy is affecting people, become memorable TV.

“Focus equals the emotion and/or character and/or concept that holds the disconnected pieces together,” says Huppert. “It’s the spine that runs through it.”

2. Try the Christmas tree structure. Huppert likes to reward his viewers for sticking with him. So instead of the inverted pyramid approach, he likes to use the Christrmas tree.

“Each point on the tree is a reveal — I share the surprises I’ve uncovered with the viewer.  Before I write, I outline my surprises and build up to each.”

3. Sentences build to the most important point. Huppert also crafts his sentences carefully; his goal is to put the most important word in the sentence at or near the end. The reason? Your writing will have more impact on the viewer and they’ll have better recall of key points.

4. Write into your stand up.  “Almost all of my stories have a stand up or live component,” says Huppert.  “The best thing ever said to me by a photog is:  ‘What are you saying BEFORE the stand up?'”  Huppert says that If you write the  lines in and out of the stand up first, the stand up itself will be more focused, shorter and better.

5. Try to get a “handshake shot.” When you meet someone for the first time, it’s not unusual to put our your hand and look them in the eye during a handshake.  Huppert likes to have that “handshake shot” in his stories, where the viewer can look the primary character in the face and get a sense of that person.

Huppert’s stories don’t just happen, they’re a result of his personal challenge to go beyond the standard.

“The time you spend on the front end standing back and thinking really pays off on the back end.”


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