October 7, 2004 spout

Every Story I’ve Ever Written

I was working with a potential author on an article he’d like to write covering some ground I left uncovered in my original No-Touch Deployment piece for MSDN Mag. Anyway, he sent me the list of topics and then said the following:

There is a fair amount of material here it might benefit from being broken into chunks. I think I will write about small chunks at a time and then we see how much belongs in one article. Rereading your original article it struck me that you had [a] story that held it together, I need to find one for me.”

I’ve heard this kind of thing before, i.e. people ask how I turn a seemingly random set of topics into a story.” I’m all for that, but it’s not really such a chore. In fact, here’s the essence of every technical piece I’ve ever written:

So, I want to build this thing that needs to do this, that and the other. I started with this, did it this way and it worked. Now I need to do that. Oops. That didn’t work the way I thought it should. Here’s what I need to do to work around the problem. OK, now I want to do the other… [repeat]”

The secret is really building up from what the reader already knows with some minimal new, interesting thing and keep on like that til you’ve covered the ground you want to cover, stringing things together with transitions that give the reader the impression of one contiguous story. If you really want to get fancy, put a personal anecdote at the front that you use as an analogy, bring it up a few times during the piece and then wrap up with something clever that ties the your anecdote together with the ground you’ve covered by extending the analogy in a humorous way (but that’s optional).