Start with a problem…

Experienced writers have all sorts of ways to begin a story. They can start with dialog…two people talking to each other.

Or, they might begin the by describing a scene, like a “large barn just outside of town that the old-timers say is haunted.”

But here’s a really simple idea I learned from an advertising copywriter. “Don’t waste time,” he said. “Announce the story’s major problem in the very first sentence.”

After he told me this, I started paying attention to more print ads. Many of them actually stated the problem in the headline. Example: “Would you do more walking if your feet didn’t hurt?”

Practice today on how you might begin the biography of a fictional character. Example: “Little Red Riding Hood left her house to take cookies to Grandma, but her path led through dense woods full of dangerous animals.”

Offer positive thoughts

This series of questions can all be answered with the same two words. Here come the questions:

What helps us remember great childhood stories? Why do we recall radio and television advertising? What do most of Aesop’s fables teach us? Why do we buy a certain brand of shampoo, or soap, or shirt, or shoes?

The answer? Each offer positive solutions. At the end of the story or advertisement, we’re given a solution that makes us happy, or solves a problem, or enhances our lives in some way.

If you must propose a problem in a story you write, can you tell the reader how to solve that problem, or where to search for an answer…or at least leave the reader with a happy thought or teach them something?

Goldilocks encountered several problems in the three bears’ house. But on the plus side, she learned not to enter homes where she wasn’t invited.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

One-minute idea presentation

If a person lives to be 90, that person has lived about 47,304,000 minutes. What can somebody accomplish in a single minute?

A fast sprinter can run a quarter-mile. An announcer can deliver a 60-second radio commercial, which is plenty of time to describe a product. A comedian can tell a reasonably-complicated joke…and we hope it’s a funny one.

I’ve written stories for about 40 years. If each story is 200-300 words long, it would take an average reader about one minute to reach each.

Whenever I write, I attempt to present one complete thought in 200 words or less. I feel that writing longer to stress a single point might (1) bore the reader or (2) waste his/her time.

That doesn’t mean that all my stories last only one minute, because I might want to make several points. But to make only one point…I try to do that in 60 seconds.

Look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message

10 ways to make a point in 1 minute

If you believe – as I do – that a one minute (or shorter) message is the wave of the future, how can you send an effective one? Here are ten brief thoughts:

1. SINGLE THEME – Stick to one main point, and reveal it at the first of the message. If you’ve got two or three points to make, stress the most important first…and use the others as supporting points.

2. AGE – There’s some research that claims the younger the audience, the shorter message it wants. Reason? Folks under 35 are used to receiving information in brief form.

3. MINI-PARAGRAPHS – Because people on-the-go want briefer messages, they likely want short sentences and short paragraphs too. Consider paragraphs of three sentences or less.

4. NEED IDEAS? – I think the best messages are radio commercials. Listen to how well they create images — and motivate listeners — in one minute or less.

5. EXPERT ADVICE – Most folks want – and pay attention to -advice from experts.

6. CURRENT EVENTS – Can you link your feature with a current event or popular trend?

7. PROGNOSTICATOR – Does your story predict the future of an event or industry?

8. FAMOUS QUOTE – Does a famous quote – or quote by a famous person — add emphasis to your story?

9. HEADLINE HINT – Don’t write your headline until you’ve finished writing your story. It’s easier to make the headline summarize the story than it is to write a headline, then write the story to fit it.

10. POPULAR HEADLINES – In our experience, the two most popular headlines are those that (a) ask a question or (b) present a list…like the story you’re reading now.

Rix Quinn’s new e-book:

Best samples of 1 minute writing?

During each day, you’re likely to hear dozens of 200-word writing examples. Where might those ideas come from?

Radio and TV commercials are generally under 200 words, yet they tell a complete story. Single panel cartoons are only a few words. Cartoons strips are also very short.

Jokes are often brief. Sometimes they are just a set-up sentence and a punch line. Others tell a brief story that offers a surprise ending.

How about e-mailings? Each day I receive at least one very good, brief e-mail message!

What’s the best one-minute writing you’ve seen? If you’ll e-mail it to me I’ll print it in this blog, and give you credit by name! Good writing is a community process. We can all help each other. Send your ideas to me at

See Rix’s new e-book “How to Sell Ideas with the Minute Message.”

Attention spans, bathroom breaks

Did you know that our water supply faces a minor crisis every month or so? The reason might surprise you.

If there’s a big sports playoff game – or a popular TV series – viewers wait until commercials to take a bathroom break. Multiple flushes at about the same time strain local sewage systems. A bathroom break lasts approximately two minutes.

During those two minutes several commercials run. Some last 15 seconds, some last 30, some last a minute.

Once, I sat down to randomly record commercial length. Here’s what my semi-scientific survey found:

If you count “commercial programming” as anything that’s NOT the show you tuned in for, the average break is TWO minutes. Some are slightly longer, some shorter, and some – in addition to commercials – carry “tease” promotions of shows to come.

Why two minutes? My guess is, that’s the maximum attention span a viewer is willing to commit before focusing on another subject.