Feature Writing The Art of Telling Stories What’s a feature? • Features are told in a less hurried and generally more creative way. • Features almost never begin with the most important information like inverted pyramid stories. • More stories are written in a feature style today. Kinds of features • Trend stories report on changes that happen gradually over time. – It’s often a good idea to personalize the leads of these stories. Kinds of features cont. • Profiles tell the story of a person or persons. • Human interest stories in some way tell us more about what it means to be human. They have little impact; sometimes profiles can be human interest stories. Related terms • A sidebar accompanies a hard news story and is written in a feature style. • A followup runs a day or more after the main news story and reports on results of earlier developments. Do readers like inverted pyramid stories? • Surveys say they don’t, often commenting reading them feels like “work.” They tolerate the inverted pyramid because it delivers the news quickly. What do high school readers want? • They want interesting, real stories about people they know. They also like controversy and interesting issues. Do high school students get this kind of writing very often? • Not very often. Most papers and yearbooks ignore thousands of storytelling chances every year. Typical high school writing • Exhibit A: Laura Orr has been named Student of the Month. Laura is a senior and last week was named the most valuable player on the state championship volleyball team. Her favorite activities include water skiing, tennis, reading and watching movies. Typical high school writing • Exhibit B: In a teenager’s life, one thing is always true: The need for money is the same. Some teens can get money by working in stores or by doing odd jobs, but perhaps the most popular way to earn fast money is through baby sitting . . . Typical high school writing • Exhibit C: February is Black History Month, and the school will again participate in a wide variety of activities commemorating the many contributions blacks have made to the United States and the world. How do you write compelling features? • Abandon the inverted pyramid and use features leads and style. Feature writing hint #1 • Focus on a single person for your lead. – Tell the story through one person’s eyes; this requires good reporting. Feature writing hint #2 • Focus on an incident or anecdote. – Retell a specific moment or scene for your lead. Show, don’t tell. Feature writing hint #3 • Try a startling statement or dialogue or other devices. Feature writing hint #4 • Describe a setting as a way of establishing the theme of a piece Improved feature leads • Exhibit A: Laura Orr never set out to be the AllAmerican girl. It just turned out that way. She plays volleyball because it clears her mind, she said. She’s not sure why she’s so good at it. “I enjoy it so I work at it a little hard, I guess,” she said. Her parents have always stressed academics, so it’s no surprise she’s an honor roll student. “They’ve never really pushed me, but I understand their expectations,” she said. (focus on an individual, somewhat of a startling statement) Improved feature leads • Exhibit B: It took only a second. • Sophomore Clyde Zeigler turned his back on Josh long enough for the mischievous 8-year-old to open the backyard gates, allowing the three black Labradors to escape into the neighborhood. • “I really panicked,” Clyde said. “The last thing Mr. Nelson, Josh’s father, told me was to make certain the dogs didn’t get out of the yard, and just like that they were gone. I chased them down for an hour. • Welcome to the wonderful world of baby-sitting. (startling statement combined with an anecdote) Improved feature leads • Exhibit C: History teacher and coach Dennis Sims remembers his high school days all too well, and the memories aren’t good ones. • “Although I lived only a mile from school, I was forced to attend an all-black school,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to mingle with the white kids even though I’d played with many of them all my life.” • He said remembers how members of his family were denied basic rights such as voting and recalls the night a band of thugs lynched a young black man for talking to a white girl. • “ I grew up in a segregated community that treated us harshly,” he said. “Thank God that’s all changed.” • As evidence, the school will again participate in February’s Black History Month, and Sims will be in charge of the annual event. (focus on an individual combined with an anecdote) Body of the story • The billboard or so-what graph – This comes after the feature lead. (Feature leads can be several paragraphs.) – It tells what the story is about. Billboard example • In the black sand in front of his bare feet a shirtless man named Jaidev is tidying up a capital P, as in Phoenix. Squatting on his heels, he carefully removes what looks like a giant aluminum cookie cutter, then flicks away stray bits of sand with a stick. Next he dusts the sand with graphite powder and covers it with a box made of molded clay and sand. Molten pig iron is poured in through a hole. When the iron cools, the box comes off, revealing a 200-pound masterpiece entitled “Phoenix Sanitary Sewer.” To his government, Jaidev is a small but vital part of India’s drive to increase exports and earn foreign exchange. To some of his competitors in the U.S., however, he is part of a network engaged in unfair competition. U.S. foundries claim India is dumping manhole covers. • • Feature body • Keep related material together • Divide piece into sections. Each section tells a different part of the story. • End stories in memorable ways. Often it’s a good to use a quote. This is called a clincher.
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