Narratively Writers Guidelines – Reported 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. Give us the important background information as quickly as possible, and make sure the bulk of the story is made up of dramatic, immersive scenes. Even if you as a reporter did not actually see all of the story’s important moments in-person, we want you to gather enough information in your reporting to be able to recreate those moments in full, colorful detail.

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 places— how they look, feel and smell—and of people—how they speak, act, look and carry themselves. Your words should give the reader a sense of what your main subjects look and act like even without photos.

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 Narratively 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 Sources

Quotes: A reported story for Narratively should always include direct quotes from more than one person. Even if it’s a personal profile of one individual, think about who else can provide additional perspective—family, colleagues, clients, friends, enemies—and discuss a reporting plan with your editor before writing.

Relationships with Sources: If you have any kind of personal or business relationship with a source or subject who will be mentioned in your story — friends, co-workers, cousins, etc. — discuss this with your editor before you accept the assignment, and include a mention clarifying that relationship within the story.

Anonymity: We do not grant anonymity to sources unless there is a compelling reason to do so—e.g., using their real name will endanger them, put them at risk of losing a job… If a source needs to be anonymous, discuss this with your editor and then explain why within the text. (Example: “Deandra,” who asked that her real name not be revealed because her parents and children don’t know she’s an assassin…)

Facts and Details: Anytime you quote a source saying something about another person, company or 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.

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

Reported stories should be written in the third person, except for any passages that require you to make your personal presence as the reporter known. If you want to use first person in your piece, discuss this approach with your editor before writing.

Names: Include full names for every person quoted or cited in your story, and ages of all main subjects. Use last names with no title on second reference.

Tense: We prefer present tense for quotes (“she says”), unless you are describing a specific moment that took place in the past (“she said in an interview given five years ago”).

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

Filing Your Draft 

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.

Transcripts: Please record audio of your interviews whenever possible and share the transcripts and/or audio files. We realize sources are not always comfortable be recording; in those cases please share your notes from the interview in lieu of a transcript.

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.

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