Writing The Feature Story by Jordan Clary

Today’s guest poster is a freelancer who originally emailed me asking for more information about the work I did as a social media manager earlier this year. I was thrilled to make the connection and happily invited her to post something for all of you–I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

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Feature stories are a mainstay of nearly every type of publication. They balance out informational articles with texture, color and depth. Feature stories give the writer, and reader, a chance to explore a subject and look at it from different perspectives. Unlike news stories, which generally follow the inverted pyramid style, where the reporter makes the main point right away and the most important sub-points in the first paragraph or two, with a feature story a writer can develop the storyline in a number of ways.

Although, features must still follow the journalistic rules of fairness and accuracy, the writer can be more creative with a feature story by adding descriptions, impressions and other details that might be overlooked in a news report.

Feature stories can be found anywhere.

As a freelance journalist, and more recently, as a writer for a weekly newspaper, I’ve written hundreds of feature stories. Just in the past couple weeks I’ve written features about a woman who saves greyhounds, a rancher who self-published his memoir, a homework club for English as a second language learners and a small band of Paiutes who are reclaiming their ancestral homeland.

What types of subjects make up feature stories? Nearly anything.

Many features are profiles of an interesting person. Trade magazines might be interested in a profile on someone who is a master at the trade or a behind-the-scenes look at a particular industry. Business magazines like profiles of successful business people. When writing a profile of a person, however, it’s important to focus on just the parts that are relevant to the topic you are writing about. Don’t try to cover their entire autobiography.

Human interest stories are one of the most popular types of features. Similar to profiles, they give the reader a chance to understand issues through the experiences of another. I live in a rural area where one of the big issues between ranchers and environmentalists is water rights. There is a movement to restore some barren areas to their original lushness through stream and meadow restoration projects. Some ranchers feel this is taking water away from their cattle. Last spring I wrote several features trying to present the different sides to the issue, including a profile of a rancher who began to support the restoration project once he understood its long range impact on the area. History can make for a good feature story. For Veterans Day you might write about a particular battle or interview a veteran. You could write about how traditions evolved during a particular holiday. And don’t forget the lesser known holidays. Does anyone really know the origins of Groundhog Day?

Seasonal themes can also be developed. These can be themes about the four seasons or they can follow other seasonal ideas: baseball season, opera season, cultural events, a business’ cycle.

Mastering the art of feature stories can provide a door into a number of different publications, including both internet and traditional print media.

Newspapers and magazines like features because of their engaging nature, and many of these venues are printing more features as a way to keep their readers interested.

If you’re a copywriter or business writer, you’ll find many opportunities for feature writing. Company newsletters often contain feature stories that highlight a particular employee’s achievements or of someone who has done something relevant for the industry. Public relations professionals often write short features as press releases.

Broadcast journalists for both television and radio love human interest stories. These behind-the-scenes profiles are often what keep viewers or listeners coming back for more.

If you’re a blogger, you already know, many posts are simply short profiles on a particular topic.

Feature stories are all around us. Do you know someone who has overcome a serious illness? As more and more businesses fold, a profile on what happens to a worker suddenly out of a job can be a valid feature. Who, in your community, is volunteering for animal welfare, assisting battered women, feeding the homeless or helping raise the awareness about foster children? A casual conversation in a grocery line can lead to a feature, as it did for me recently when the cashier mentioned they were holding a birthday party for a customer who turned 100 years old.

Informational articles may give you ideas on how to expand to a feature.

Keep a notebook to jot down ideas and contact information when something comes your way. You’ll soon find you have more ideas than you can possibly bring to fruition. And if you work locally, you may very well find people coming to you for feature stories.

Bio: Jordan Clary lives in northern California and works as a writer and photographer for a rural weekly newspaper. She continues to freelance on the side.

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