Tips of the trainer - HUMAN INTEREST STORIES

Where to find human interest stories

There is no doubting the public's thirst for human interest stories these days. Soap operas such as EastEnders and Coronation Street are simply a series of human interest stories woven around one another.

Women's magazines are full of features like "My True Story", confessions and true life dramas. And many successful TV programmes such as Wife Swap and Holiday Showdown are all based on human interest stories: ordinary people with a story to tell.

This is why a good reporter will be digging out as many human interest stories as he/she can. Let's look at the kinds of subjects that make good human interest stories: Triumph over adversity: How I Beat Cancer; how I Overcame a Cot Death; how I battled back from bankruptcy.

One Year On: A good reporter will enter story ideas in his/her diary 12 months ahead, to see how the people are getting on one year after - a road accident, a divorce, a major operation or a bereavement.

People who help the needy: For instance, the terminal cancer victim who is raising money for cancer research or the husband whose wife died of a heart attack who is now raising thousands of pounds for the British Heart Foundation.

Human achievement: The dyslexic boy who has just passed his proofreading exams, or the woman with a terrible fear of flying who has just become an air hostess.

Bravery: Acts of courage make great reading. The annual Children of Courage Awards provide many stories that fall into this category: the boy who saved his sister from drowning.

People who show compassion: The children who gave away half of their Christmas presents to needy children, or the woman who sold her antique collection so that a little girl across the road could have an eye operation that would save her sight.

People and their pets: The woman who took in so many stray cats that her husband ended up living in a caravan in the garden… or the cat who walked 70 miles to find his old home when the family moved.

Reunions: The 70-year-old man who has just been reunited with his twin brother after they were separated at birth and fostered out.

Always be on the lookout in the personal columns for people trying to find old friends, family or school friends.

Eccentrics: People love reading about eccentrics: the man who has invented a device that straightens bananas, or the man who is crossing the English Channel in a bath tub to get in the Guinness Book of Records.

Victims: These are the "weepy" stories - tales of real sadness: the mum who lost her baby twins to cot death… the young couple who got married in hospital two days before the bride died of cancer.

Unsung heroes: The 83-year-old who has served dinners at a day centre for 20 years because he likes to do his bit for the "old folk".


How to write human interest stories

Your approach when writing a human interest story will be different: Remember, the story is about the person, so it's good to name them in the introduction - something you would not normally do in a news story.

Your aim is to create mood, emotion and atmosphere, so it is acceptable to use adjectives (brave, heartbroken, plucky), without going over the top.

Try to enable the reader to experience the emotion of the story: if it's sad, your reader should feel sad; if it's funny, your reader should laugh.

Use plenty of quotes. Let the person tell the story themselves with as little interruption as possible.

Use the delayed drop: spend two or three pars painting the picture, building suspense, before revealing the angle in the fourth paragraph.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services (www.ctjt.biz). He can be contacted at cleland.thom@tesco.net

compiled by Cleland Thom

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