We all love a nice ‘feel good’ story in the newspapers, and some of us love to write them. I am one of those who loves to do an interview with an amazing person and get into the ‘meat’ of who they actually are; sometimes the interview turns into a chat and I become an instant admirer. I have written features for magazines, newsletters and newspapers throughout the years. In fact, I am currently a frequent contributor to the Care Parenting Magazine in the Trinidad Guardian. I get the lovely job of highlighting some of Trinidad and Tobago’s awesome youth in the Care’s Star on the Rise column.
So, today, I am going to share some tips on how you can venture into the world of feature writing. If it is your first time and you are wondering, ‘where do I begin?’ I can help you.
First, you must know one important point about features: they are not hard news, so don’t treat them as such. Features are articles that focus on an individual, topic or an event and gives more intimate detail than a hard news feature.
So now that you know this important bit of information, let’s get to the tips!
- Find an interesting topic, person or event. If you weren’t assigned a feature, and you are taking the initiative, first order of business is to find an interesting topic or person. If it is a person, think about how you can tell their story in a new and compelling way. What can you speak about that has not already been said, or how can you cover the same topics/issues from a different perspective?
- Do your research!! I repeat, DO YOUR RESEARCH! DO NOT attempt to write a feature without doing your research! Nothing will ruin a reputation faster than publishing incorrect information. Utilise technology: call, skype, email the person; anything that will get you the information you need to write your article. The best information comes straight from the source. While contact with family, friends, associates do provide greater insight into a subject, it does not, and can not replace having a conversation with the actual person, or attending the actual event.
- Consider your audience. Who is your target audience? Find out the target audience for the magazine/newspaper/website; this will set the tone and angle of the feature. Writing for tweens is different from writing for male firefighters. Your audience matters!
- Include quotations, but don’t rely too much on them. The use of a person’s words definitely packs a punch, however if you litter your article with only the person’s words, then what you are writing is basically an autobiography. Quotes should be used as the thread that holds a piece together, rather than act as the foundation and walls.
- Show, don’t tell. If you have ever done even a day in a writing workshop, you would have heard this statement made several times. In fact, if you are like me, you would be darn sick of it even though you know it is one of the most important tips in writing. Show: use descriptive writing, the active voice; stay away from the passive voice as much as you can. Lead the reader to it so they can drink, rather than shoving their heads under the water.
- Keep your opinions to yourself. If you were assigned to write a feature on a white supremacist; write that feature in the best way possible to feature the truth about that individual, rather than filling your article with opinionated comments. Yes, it may be hard, but a feature is not an opinion column.
- Keep an open mind. You may be surprised by the things you learn and the things you may fall in love with. Shake off those pre-conceived notions and approach the subject willingly.
- Try to connect with the subject on a human level. This is very important to separate your feature from the others. Make the connections.
- Focus on what is compelling. Yes, Obama is an interesting man, but is the presidency the only thing that makes him interesting? You are the only one who can find that special something; in fact, every person may find a different ‘thing’ compelling about a subject.
- Trust the process. If at first it does not sound right; re-write, re-write, re-write. I don’t know of any writer who is able to get it perfect the first time out the gate, re-writing is part of the process, so trust it.
So there you have it, ten tips to start you off on your journey of writing great and popping features!