Who hasn’t read an article where you have to wonder if the writer ever met the subject? Who doesn’t listen to a radio interview and beg the presenter to challenge the guest to simply answer the question? Yet, even I have resorted to using the approach taken by Deep Thought, the computer in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which takes 7.5 million years to compute the ultimate answer. It then spends the next 10 million years trying to come up with the question.
Here are 5 reasons why I think it’s sometimes OK to come up with the question after you’ve got the answer:
- Bad case of grasshopper mind. Give your subject free rein. Don’t try to constrain them within an existing format. For example, a two page feature by Charles Saatchi promoting his book Be The Worst You Can Be: Life’s Too Long For Patience & Virtue, contains such pearls of wisdom as ‘Q: What kind of person spends £2 on a bottle of mineral water? A: Try spelling Evian backwards’. He’s an advertising genius, why not let him be creative, even if the question seems only designed to set up the payoff to the answer.
- Random collection of disjointed, disparate and plain daft items or issues. Can’t bring them together in one coherent article? Don’t even pretend. Your readers aren’t stupid. Play to the strength of the format. For example, a My Secret Address Book feature could easily cover ‘Best place for a brewery tour by bike? Guinness, Dublin. Best not make too much noise? Silent cinema festival in Bo’ness. Best step back in time? Box set DVDs of the Two Ronnies’.
- Difficult interview Disjointed, curtailed or the interviewee is plain incoherent? Salvage what you can. For example, Madonna storms out, leaving you with: ‘I flew in this morning for the film premiere. Where’s my green tea? I asked my personal trainer to meet me, why isn’t he here?’ Don’t panic. This becomes: ‘How does Madonna prepare for a red carpet event? With antioxidant-busting green tea and a pre-performance personal training session; and by clearing her diary of any work-related appointments.’
- Dying to feature a product or service but can’t see how. Beauty and health columns, and house magazines are all experts at turning an answer into a problem to be solved e.g. ‘How do I store my old copies of Fur and Feather Weekly in a way that makes the best use of a 20 year subscription? Golly, that’s a tough one. Fortunately Tate & Lyle’s new HamsterUs device makes a feature of old magazines by efficiently shredding up to 5Kgs turning them into a life size model of your favourite pet.’
- It makes you think. Answers can make pleasantly, random reading. Or is that just me?