As reporters we use our senses to immediately begin gathering information for our stories, but sometimes what we see and hear is not the whole story. Our own hearts and our life experiences may help us see more of the story than we have ever seen before. Don’t let the obvious lead you to a story with no emotional range.
So, let’s begin developing your emotional range. Start your own life experience checklist. Remember what it felt like to be dumped by a lover or how you felt when you had that car accident. Go back to the time when you got a big holiday cash bonus or when your child brought home her first handmade Valentine’s card. How did you feel when your first child was born? How did you feel when you had your first kiss? If we are going to be great storytellers, we need to experience life ourselves and then draw on those experiences to make our stories better. So, use the experiences in your own life to begin developing your emotional range. Think of how you felt on your child’s first day at school or when your grandfather died and find words in your stories to help us better understand the story you are covering today.
A news director told me that when he is hiring a new reporter, he looks for a candidate with a developed emotional range. They tell more powerful stories, he said. Life is powerful and it should be jumping off the screen when your piece airs.
Conflict is an essential element of most stories, but conflict only scratches the surface when you are talking about emotional range. Conflict is the catalyst for the universal emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, happiness, and sadness. Can you show the quiet sadness or frustration of a family whose life was changed by a tornado? They are not yelling or crying or even talking. Does your emotional range allow you to recognize that emotional numbness?
In order to begin finding and developing your emotional range in storytelling you must look back. Pull out your stories from the past two weeks and look at them again. Think about how you felt about doing the story and then think about how the people in the story felt. Did you capture those feelings? Did you show the quiet frustration of the city council woman who is trying to do something good for her district? Or, did you just do the obvious and show the argument in the council chambers?
Every story we do affects the viewer emotionally. Even the most mundane city council budget story touches some emotion. Hopefully it is told in such a way that it touches the anger button or victory button, but maybe it’s just the boredom button. Whatever emotion a story elicits, it should be an integral part of our storytelling arsenal. But, does your emotional range even allow you to recognize that “feeling”.
Many seasoned reporters can look past the facts of the story into the hearts of people and understand what makes them act. Young, inexperienced reporters deal with what is in front of them and report it. They have not yet developed their emotional range. Start exercising yours. Think about it before you even make the first contact on a story. Where is this story going to take YOU? Emotionally. It will make you better.