Jeff Klinkenberg shares how he approaches interviewing and writing for his stories

Jeff Klinkenberg shared insights on strategies of capturing stories and personalities. Photo by Julie Dodd

Jeff Klinkenberg shared insights on strategies of capturing stories and personalities. Photo by Julie Dodd

Jeff Klinkenberg distributed a packet of his stories — published in The Tampa Bay Times and many destined to be published in another collection of his much admired feature stories. He then told us about those stories and the behind-the-scenes of getting those stories.

He asks the questions that he knows that we, as teachers who teach writing, want to know.

How does he find his story ideas?

Know your area and be observant.

“Read, read, read.” Klinkenberg says that everyone who is a writer knows the importance of reading.

Many of his story ideas come from the large network of people who share story ideas with him. Some of those people are colleagues and people he knows. Others are his readers who admire his writing and can see a potential story for him.

How does he get people to agree to be interviewed?

It’s also clear that Klinkenberg is willing to go to great lengths to get his stories.

He went to Spain last summer to do research for a piece he is writing about the upcoming celebration of the 500th anniversary of Spaniards arriving in Florida.

For another story, he’s been working on one potential source for a year and a half.

He spent more than a month interviewing one person for a story. Because the source wasn’t sure about agreeing to an interview with Klinkenberg, their first interview was at a Publix grocery story, a non-threatening location.

What’s his approach to writing his stories once he has done the interviewing?

After an interview, he immediately types his notes. “I have lots and lots of notes,” he says.

Then he starts circling material in his notes – looking for what will make the story.

For him, it’s good to know what the ending is before he starts writing the story.

He says that good storytelling  involves including broccoli and ice cream cones.

The broccoli is the nuts and bolts and the facts. The ice cream cones are anecdotes and good quotes. “It’s the ice cream cones that keep the readers moving through the story.”

In preparing to write, he asks himself: What is this story about?

Write first draft quickly, he advises. “I like to write fast.”

Print it out. Read it aloud. That helps him hear what’s “clunky” and see the typos.

“Rewriting is really a little bit fun,” he said, explaining how the rewrite can solve the problems that he sees in his first draft.

Scholastic Journalism Division head David Bulla was blogging during the mid-winter meeting. Read his “Broccoli and ice cream cones” post.

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