Narratively Writers Guidelines – Hidden History Stories

Thanks for accepting an assignment with Narratively! Please read these guidelines carefully before you start writing, and consult them again before submitting your first draft. 

The Big Picture

Every Narratively story is made up predominantly of active and dynamic scenes, told with lots of color and detail, as if the reader is watching these moments unfold. We know it’s a writing cliché, but show don’t tell is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing for Narratively. This is particularly important with historical stories. We don’t want an encyclopedia entry or a story predominantly made up of a list of facts, but rather a series of colorful, exciting scenes, full of details pulled from your research. If you can’t find enough information to craft rich, colorful scenes, then this piece probably won’t work for us.

Opening paragraphs are particularly important in order to get the attention of online readers. Your opening scene should be one of the most exciting moments in the story, told with enough enticing color that it jumps off the page (well, screen). Often, we’ll start with the most exciting/dramatic moment of the piece (regardless of when that moment takes place chronologically in the story), then flash back to the story’s opening events at the beginning of section two and move forward from there.

Include vivid descriptions of people, places and events, in as much detail as you can gather. But don’t invent or assume anything. While we like color and details, we’re not doing historical fiction. We need you to be 100 percent sure all details are accurate. Don’t say something happened on a sunny summer day in 1776 if you don’t know for a fact that it was sunny that day. Don’t make up scenes as they probably or may have happened; ensure that every detail is accurate. If there’s some question as to how a particular event played out, write the scene as it most likely happened, but clarify in the text when there are questions.

The best way to get a solid sense of what we’re looking for in terms of dramatic scenes and colorful details is to read a few of our most recent Hidden History stories.

Once your reporting is complete, please draft an outline of the story, including the main scenes you’ll write, and run that by your editor before you start writing.

Working with Historical Sources

Any book, article, website or interview subject that serves as a primary source for your piece should be cited within the story. If much of your research is drawn from one source, you don’t need to mention the source on every reference, but make it clear within each section of the piece where your information is coming from. Example:

  • First reference:  “… the New York Globe reported in 1891 that …”

  • Second reference: “… according to the Globe …”

  • Additional references: If the rest of the scene or section is clearly all based on information from the Globe article, you do not need to mention it in every sentence.

Any written material that is taken directly from another source must be included within quotation marks and credited. Be vigilant to ensure no information from another source ends up in your piece without proper credit.

Working with Modern Sources

Facts and Details: Anytime you quote a source saying something about another person, company or other entity, reach out to the person mentioned to confirm that the facts are accurate, and include their responses to any negative claims in the story. This may not seem relevant in historical stories, but it often is. Consider whether any of the people mentioned in your story are living and will take issue with details included in the piece. Even if none of them are living, consider whether their family or followers will take issue with claims made about them in the piece.

Never send your story to your subjects/sources before publication. If a subject requests to see the story, tell them it is our editorial policy that we don’t share stories with anyone before they are published. You can send subjects a list of facts mentioned in the story for them to confirm, but never show them an entire draft.

Style Notes

Names: Include full names for every person quoted or cited in your story. Use last names with no title on second reference.

Language: We use American English in all stories, regardless of the setting of the story.

Filing Your Draft

Bio: Include a bio at the end of your piece, followed by links to any professional websites or social media profiles you would like to include.

Source List: With your first draft, send a list of all books, articles and website links used in your research, as well as contact information for all people interviewed.

Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your editor.