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How to Develop a Story Idea:
It’s Simple as a T-A-P

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

“I have a story idea, but I can’t write it.” Oh, the frustration! You’ve got a concept floating bout in your mind, but you are not sure how to use it to develop a story idea on paper.

Don’t let yourself get pulled into the Abyss of Blank Pages or worse, the Writer’s Block Torture Chamber. 

Instead, set aside your “I-must-be-creative” hat, put on your practical pants, and fight back. You can develop a story idea with a simple little formula: T-A-P.

As in Topic-Angle-Point.

Use the T-A-P formula to develop a story idea with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #ArticleWriting #storytelling

Develop a story idea with a writing formula

A formula provides a handy outline for you to follow as you write. You use writing formulas for plenty of writing tasks: to structure a piece using a standard template (such as Bob Stone’s Copywriting Formula) … as a checklist to follow (such as A FOREST formula acts as a checklist for persuasive writing.) ... or simply to get ideas (as in these 5 headlines formulas).

In the case of developing a story from a seed idea, T-A-P is a useful – and versatile –tool. Its nifty three steps guide your thinking process. You start with a broad topic, determine an angle, and then choose a main point.

But first, a clarification.

Develop a story vs develop an article

Lest you think that the T-A-P tool is reserved only for fiction writers and their brand of “stories,” be aware that journalists refer to their submissions as “stories.” Bloggers often use the same term for their posts. The principles used to develop a story idea are the same for both fiction and non-fiction writers.

Develop a story idea with T-A-P

A topic, an angle, and a point: they are not same thing. Get them straight in your mind and you’ll be able to develop a story idea quicker – and write better stories, articles, and blog posts, to boot. Let’s define them.

  • A topic is a broad subject. It’s too big to cover in just one story or even a book. A topic might be home repair … sewing machines … mutual funds… golf.
  • An angle is one facet of a topic. It’s a particular way of approaching or considering the subject by addressing one issue or problem or element. For instance, if your topic is sewing machines, then you could choose different story angles like commercial sewing machines, sewing machine repair, best sewing machines for beginners, sewing machine tutorials, automatic threading on sewing machines, Singer sewing machine features …. 
  • A point (as in the point of the story or the point of the article) is the single most important thing about that topic angle that you want to tell your readers. Your article idea could discuss the best zigzag feature on a Singer sewing machine. Or it could address the best way to regulate the tension when using a large zigzag stitch on your Singer sewing machine. 

How to develop a story idea with a T-A-P sheet

Create a simple chart, either in a Word document or even on a piece of scrap paper. Draw three columns. Label them “Topic,” “Angle,” and “Point.”

Then review your story idea. Perhaps it’s an image you had in your mind of your young daughter sitting at a sewing machine. You cannot figure out how to turn that image into a viable article.

What broad topic does that image address? Be general. If you’re not sure, then write down two or even three topics in the first column of your TAP sheet. In our example, your broad topics might be “sewing machines” or “sewing with children.”

Move to the Angle column. Brainstorm and list the various slants that your story idea can take. If you have more than one topic, then brainstorm different slants for each topic in accordance with your story idea. In this instance, story angles could be, “best sewing machines for children” or “how to get children started sewing.”

Now you’re getting somewhere!

What point do you want to make in your story? In other words, what is the single takeaway you’d like to give readers? Dig apart the image or idea you have in your mind. Are you concerned about your daughter’s safety in using a sewing machine? Maybe you are not sure when you should introduce her to sewing. Or what kinds of projects are appropriate for a first-time seamstress? Write down those ideas in your “Point” column – ideas like, “Best age to start teaching sewing to children” … “Must-have safety features to look for in a child’s sewing machine” … “A simple sewing project for a young, first-time sewer” …

Develop a story idea and start writing

You can see why it’s not so hard after all to develop a story idea. You may need a bit of practice. Follow the TAP formula and you won’t have trouble drilling down your idea from a topic to an angle to a point. Instead, you’ll have an altogether different problem. You’ll have so many story ideas that you won’t know which one to write first.

More Article Writing Tips

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Top Article Writing Tip: The One-Point Rule ...

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How to Choose an Article Topic...

Choose a Story Angle Using These 3 Tips ...

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