by Dick Smith
Writing a story for a magazine, newspaper, or the club newsletter is a lot like telling a friend about an experience. As we relate that experience, we are generally following the rules of good Journalism. There are six basic questions to reporting; Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Before getting started, we should become familiar with a few terms used in writing.
Lead is the first paragraph of the story and draws the reader into the rest of the copy. The lead should contain an important fact or statement that tells you why we took the time to write the story. For example: “Hasegawa has just released a 1/24 scale model of a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy kit. I just bought one and will have to add an addition to my house to display it.” Or, if we’re writing about a person, we can say, “Chuck Yeager was the first man to exceed the speed of sound in the Bell X-1.” You can come up with something better than my examples if you give some thought to your article beforehand.
Copy is the term used for the body of the story. What your are reading now is the “copy of the outline.” Some publishers call copy the “manuscript.”
Slug is the “name” you or the editor gives to identify your story. If you write a story about a pilot, or a ship captain, his name is usually the slug. The slug and your name go at the top of each page of the story along with a page number.
Source is a book, person or recorded event that is your proof of what you wrote is correct. Usually one source is sufficient in a story but if the event is significant or controversial, two or three sources are recommended. Some editors call this “attribution.”
Style is a way of saying “form” we put our story in for publication. Most publishers like “plain text.” That means using a word processor, regular size type, and double-spacing between the lines. This copy is written in 11 point, Times New Roman typeface. The double spacing makes it easier for the editor to make corrections or to change a word or phrase more to his liking or to the “style” of the publication. Publishers like stories written as a “word document” on a computer. When you’ve completed the story, put it on a disk to save it, transmit it to the publisher via e-mail or an attachment to e-mail, or print it out and send it to them via “snail mail.”
If you don’t have a computer, type the story on 8½ by 11 sheets of paper, double-spacing between the lines. Stories in long hand generally are not accepted unless you are famous, published, and on The New York Times “Top 10 Best Seller List.”
Now lets see how we answer the six questions.
Who: One of the basic questions we all ask when talking about a new or old kit is, “Whose kit is it?” or “Who made the kit?” It doesn’t make any difference if it is armor, aircraft, figures, or ships. Tell us who made the kit and give a little background on the kit. Is this the first time it has been released? Was there a model of this particular subject released earlier? Is there anything special about this release? A little background on the subject is always important. Tell us about the “real thing.” References are important here. If we’re writing a story about an historic person, we must tell the reader who this person is in the lead of the story. Every one connected to aviation knows the name Chuck Yeager , but who was Italo Balbo? We’ve got to identify him and tell the reader why his is important to our story. (Blabo was the under secretary for air under Benito Mussolini’s regime. Telling the reader Balbo has a street named after him in Chicago is a nice touch but this does not identify him as being important to your story.)
What: What kind of a kit is this; plastic, resin, vac-u-form? Again, if you didn’t answer the “what scale” question earlier; tell us what scale; 1/72, 1/48, 1/32, 1/35. If you don’t know, tell us “you don’t know.” There were many kits released by Revell and some other kit manufacturers in the late 50’s and early 60’s that were “box scale.” That means the scale was dictated by “what ever fit in the standard box.” If we’re writing about a person, we’ve got to answer the questions what did this person do or accomplish so important that we are writing a story about him. Was he a war ace? Was he a famous ship captain that performed some heroic duty? Was he the first to do something important to history?
Where: This may be somewhat important if the kit is old, out of production, rare, or only available from one source. Tell us where the kit was manufactured. Where did you buy it? What did you pay for it? Where can others buy this kit? For those kits that are very rare this is an important fact, so don’t overlook it. If we’re dealing with a person or thing, tell us where this event happened; time, date, place? Be specific and document your sources of information.
When: This segment is one way of weaving a little history into your review. Tell us about the “real thing.” When did this ship, aircraft or piece of armor serve? Or when was the real thing first produced? When did the first model of this subject appear? If you don’t know, find out! If you can’t find out, say so! Learn to call on fellow modelers and see if they know the answer to a question. If you need some history about a subject, ask around at the monthly meeting. (If you want to know something and have a lot of time to listen, ask Norris Graser about P-47’s.) If you have the opportunity, ask the person you are writing about for an interview. If that’s not possible, look him or her up on the Internet. Check a book in the library.
Why: This may not seem to be a very important question. Why did you buy this kit? Why did you want to build it? Was it on impulse? Do you have a particular liking for “British jets?” (I do!) Why do you like bi-planes? Answering this question gives the reader somewhat of an insight to your connection with the model. There is an assumption “the more you know about the real subject, the more accurate your model will be when completed.” Research is very important when doing a story about a person or an object. (Charlie Scardon has a reputation for total accuracy when dealing with ships. Why? Because he researches his subjects completely!) Take notes from books, websites, and your interviews and conversations. Use the notes when writing your story to back up any statement of fact. If you say, “Three hundred Spartans held off thousands of Persians at the Battle of Thermopile” back up your statement with a source.
How: This is probably the easiest of all of the questions to answer. How did I build the kit? Tell us all about it. Did I follow the instructions completely? How did I find a better way to complete a certain sequence? How did I correct an inaccuracy? How did I find the fit? How did I paint it? How did I determine the markings? I could go on for several more questions, but the important idea here is to tell us, in some detail, “How did I put this particular kit together.” Again, when dealing with a person or event, tell us how this is important. How did this person change events? What would you like to know about a person or event that would be of interest to others? Sometimes the story is a narrative of a little known event.
Summary: At the end of your article, tell us what are your impressions about this kit or person. Since a kit review or “build” article is not news or historical story, your opinion is important. Remember to tell the truth. Back up your opinion with a fact or two. If you didn’t like the kit, tell us why. Tell us if the “parts didn’t fit well” or “had to use a lot of filler.” When you disagree with others about a kit or event, tell us why and back up your opinion with a fact. If it’s a story about a person, sum up this person’s accomplishments. Tell us why he or she is important and why you think so. Again, if the summary is controversial, use sources to back up your opinions.
Finally: When you have completed your story, read it over from beginning to end. Be critical! Make sure all of the sentences convey a complete thought or statement. Take out words or phrases that are confusing. Check the spelling. Set the entire story aside and come back to it a day or two later. You may find a better way of saying something after you’ve had time to think about it.