Feature articles are called feature “stories.” However, they are not fictional. This is just like a news article that is called a news story. Story is synonymous with article in journalism language.
I interpret the word story in journalism as something that is interesting to read, as all genres of writing should be.
I recently read quotes on writing by famous writers of all genres. I realized that most of the quotes apply to feature writing, too.
I’ve picked five quotes below that may help you as feature writers.
1) E. L. Doctorow: Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.
As a feature writer, this is significant to me, because it gets me thinking about the whole feature story process. When I go to interview someone, I usually know little, if anything, about the subject. With questions that I’ve written down ahead of time, the interview becomes a learning process, before the story writing even begins.
Writing is, therefore, an exploration for the feature writer who begins with the fact-gathering. So start by having a hunger for learning about the topic you’re writing about.
2) T.S. Eliot: If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper.
Your story’s lead sentence, your first sentence, and your lead paragraph should always be interesting and draw the reader into the story. Otherwise, the reader will turn the page of the newspaper or magazine and read something else.
Pick up a well-known newspaper or magazine with feature articles and see what the writer does with the lead sentence and first paragraph. Do they draw you into the story? If the publication is a good one, the article should be good and contain an interesting introduction.
Of course, the story should sustain your interest until the end, so the reader will continue reading. Write your most important information early in the story. Hook the reader.
3) William Strunk, Jr.: Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnnecssary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
Journalists, in particular, are always urged to think this way, because space is at a premium in newspapers and magazines.
4) George Orwell said: Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Journalists tend to avoid long, pompous or complicated words. They write for the common person.
5) F. Scott Fitzgerald: Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.
I don’t remember ever seeing an article that contained an exclamation mark. If it did, it shouldn’t have been there. Your words should be significant and appropriate. If they are, the exclamation mark’s intent will be inherent in your choice of words and language.
In general, as a feature writer, try to entertain the reader, that is, write about something with human interest. A reader doesn’t only want facts, but description and interesting quotes that keep the story moving.
Don’t think of yourself as a technician who gathers facts, spews them out, and arranges them in order of the most important first. You must make the facts interesting by interspersing them with description that comes from your perception and observation. You must also use quotes from interviewees that reveal their ideas and perception in a thought-provoking way.
If you want to pursue feature writing, read my book, “Beginners’ Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features.” It has been a Featured Selection of Writer’s Digest Book Club, along with “You Can Be A Columnist,” the book I authored after it. Both are good primers for writing and getting published in newspapers and magazines.
Copyright 2011 by Charlotte Digregorio.