Mark Twain often spoke of writing in an unpretentious way, simplicity of language, accuracy, and “naturalness.” These are points that should be uppermost in feature writers’ minds when they write for newspapers and magazines.
Heed these key points about your prose:
1) Select just the right word. Brainstorm until you get it right.
2) Use concrete nouns.
3) Use action verbs.
4) Don’t prop up your verbs with adverbs.
5) Show, don’t tell.
6) Write using detail. For example, tell about the taste and smell of things.
7) Don’t paraphrase an interviewee’s great quote. And, put the quote up high in your article. (Remember that when someone says something colorful, it probably reveals a lot about their personality.)
8) On the other hand, don’t put into direct quotation what has been heard second or third hand. The quote should be the interviewee’s original statement.
9) Write forceful, compelling sentences when punch is needed. (Always avoid clumsy and meaningless sentences.)
10) Don’t write about ideas, but write about people who have the ideas. Interview them.
11) Don’t raise questions you don’t answer in your article. (This usually happens when you forgot to ask someone something, and you didn’t want to bother to call and ask a followup question.)
Above all, remember that your work begins before the writing of the article. Your prep work will shape the article. That is, there is the brainstorming for questions for the interviewee, the observing at the interview, and the note-taking. Train yourself to take notes fast by using your own personal abbreviations.
Remember, too, what Sean O’Faolain, the Irish writer, said. Ideas sometimes become clear “by, and only by, the very act of writing.” (So, get something down on paper, and little by little, your article will take shape.)
If you’ve read the classics like “Miss Lonelyhearts” or “The Day of the Locust” by Nathanael West, you will find an economy and vividness of language that any journalist would be proud to write. (So, read a lot of good writing.)
Finally, don’t forget that “cute” writing or a clever way of saying something is no substitute for a scarcity of facts and ho-hum observations.
For more essential tips, read my other posts on feature writing and general writing, too. You can also read “Beginners’ Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features.” The latter is one of my books that has been a Featured Selection of Writer’s Digest Book Club.
Copyright 2012 by Charlotte Digregorio.