The Human Experience
Embracing this concept will naturally improve your storytelling — and your readership
All right, here’s the secret: We care about people, not things. That’s it.
When it comes to yearbook copy, we want to remember how we felt about the year, not just the dates on which events happened and what their outcomes were.
Sure, it’s nice to know the football team won state, but what we really want to read about is how the senior quarterback overcame a broken leg to throw the game-winning touchdown pass.
Or how his mother ran out onto the field afterward to hug him while both cried. That’s so much more compelling than simply telling the readers the team won and the school was happy with their accomplishments.
So, how do we get these stories? Well, it’s all about the interview. If you ask the interviewee about winning the game, he’ll tell you it felt great. But then ask “Why?” Follow that with “What was the hardest thing about this year?” Or “What was the biggest surprise the team had this year?”
Those open-ended questions allow the interviewee to reminisce on the event and tell the human side of the story in addition to the outcome. We want to know how he felt about the win — and the season — and what led up to that. That’s something to which we can all relate.
Sometimes it’s even as easy as asking, “What was the dominant emotion for you this year?” And then you follow that up with the best question of all: “Why?”
When you capture the human experience, the copy in your yearbook is much more interesting, and it records what it felt like to be a student at your school this year. The cast of characters and the circumstances will make the story unique.
The stories of the year need to be told by your student body, so fill your copy with copious quotes. Let them tell the year’s story, not the writers’ words; the staff just sets the stage.
Remember, humans really do care most about people and their emotions during experiences — not things. We can all relate to how someone feels, and those feelings are what bring the stories to life.
HEATHER NAGEL, CJE
Christ Presbyterian Academy • Nashville, TN
Photo by Preston Roten
AFTER ADMIRING THE GOLDEN TROPHY and celebrating their state football title came interviews with the yearbook staff. Adding quotes from several members of the team in the caption allowed the staff to capture more emotion and detail.
DISCUSSING THEIR EXCITEMENT and nervousness, both the copy and captions included quotes and anecdotes about the kindergartners’ preparation for the school program.
AN ENVIRONMENTAL PORTRAIT accompanies the profile of one of the youngest teachers on campus. His voice plus those of others make the story more interesting.
THE CONNECTION between the dominant photo, the headline and the copy is reinforced when a senior runner reflects on the season and her career.
In the children’s book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, a young boy searches for ways to find lost memories for an old woman who had lost her own. Through his persistent questions and vivid imagination, he inspires her to remember events from her past. A yearbook should allow any reader to do the same when it is visited years later.
It’s hard to guess exactly why the buy-rate at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kansas, is nearly twice the national average, but it’s not hard to understand how important culture and tradition are in the equation.
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