Writing the Story
Feature stories are different from straight news stories, which provide answers to the five W's and H --the who, what, where, when, why and how --with added details for support.
Features, in addition to the five W's and H call for imagination, colorful writing and usually, more research.
By definition, a feature story is a creative, sometimes subjective article, primarily designed to entertain, educate or inform readers about an event, person, situation or an aspect of life.
After the interview, go back over your notes immediately and add details you may not have noted at the time but that may add to your story.
Fill in gaps in your notes while the interview is still fresh in your mind. Make your notes readable before you write.
It is best to summarize all details pertinent to the story.
Research the story
Check the newspaper's file of old story clippings and back issues (the morgue) to find previously published material on the topic.
Check references such as encyclopedias, maps, etc. If you use reference books, give full attribution. Then prepare questions. Prepare more questions than you think you need to cover the topic when talking to sources.
During the interview, observe your subject and his surroundings. Note gestures and body language. What does the room look like? Be a "human camera" --describe your subject and pertinent features of the environment. Such details help make the story interesting and believable for the reader.
Define the Topic
Writing the feature story requires discipline and organization.
Concentrate on getting the required information and putting it into an easily understood form.
Start by defining your topic. Decide what information you want. Figure out how to get it and who to get it from. Plan how you will write your idea.
Unlike straight news stories, features are normally not timely. This is an advantage for editors because features can be held until there is space in the paper. A story about a sergeant whose hobby is making model artillery weapons will be of interest to readers anytime.
There are, however, some features which must appear shortly before or after events. These are called "news features" and do have time value.
For example, a feature interview with a survivor of a helicopter crash may not be very interesting six months after the crash.
There are many forms feature stories can take. Attempts have been made to classify them, but usually any one feature will exhibit characteristics which writers should understand, such as the:
• News Feature - Ties closely to the a human-interest aspect of a news event
• Confession Feature - Written in a confidential tone
• Narrative Feature - Similar to a short story in form, with action
• Essay Feature - Explains facts or events
• Interview Feature--Primarily uses a question-and-answer format
Features normally fall into one of three categories. The three most common are news features, human interest features and personality features. They may cover such areas as:
• everyday life and experiences
• humorous incidents
• tragic occurrences
• animals and their antics
• seasonal items
You can find examples of feature stories in Reader's Digest, People Magazine, or in the Life Style section of the Sunday newspaper.
Thousands of possible stories disappear each day because they fail to make it through this first stage of the production process, let's try to make sure that yours don't. If you decide that there is a story, you then need to think through which part or parts of it are of potential interest
A journalist writing a news story is the author, organizer and decision maker. Without them the story may never be told.
They assemble the material they have at hand and which they have researched and uncovered, and then they make the most important decision of all by asking the question - is there a story?
This affects how should you tell the story, what angle you should take and the main points you should try to get across. Perhaps even more importantly, what you can leave out.
There is almost never enough time or space for all your material. Something usually has to go, and it's as well to start thinking about this sooner rather than later.
When writing remember to use your observations from the interview and research. It is up to the writer to describe and show the scene.
A well-written feature demands that the reader use precise detail and description. It paints a lively word picture of the subject to allow the reader to form a mental picture of the person he's reading about.
The feature story gives insights that set the subject apart. These insights give the reader the feeling that he has actually met the subject.
Make sure to attribute all information. Answer the 5 W's and H in feature writing as in straight news writing.
Feature writing style and format is more flexible, but the reader still wants to know as much as possible about the feature subject. Be objective; save opinions for editorials.
If you draw conclusions, be sure you've given evidence to support them. Avoid leaving yourself open to libel.
A sprinkling of direct quotations by the subject will add zest to the feature.
The secret here is to select the quotations that will illustrate an aspect of the personality that is being emphasized. If you want to show that the subject possesses a quick wit, use a quotation illustrating that point.
Quotations by the subject can say more than any number of words a writer
could put on paper. The manner in which a person speaks, his accompanying
gestures, and the actual words used can all create an image for the reader.
Statistical material, when used properly, can create reader interest. The
secret is to translate the figures into terms the reader can comprehend.
Often this is done by reducing large figures to smaller ones.
Another useful technique which many writers miss is the effective use of
mathematical, scientific and technical information. A Little imagination can help make the terms understandable to readers.
Often, similes, metaphors or similar word pictures can be used to make such information come alive.
Describing the setting helps a feature come alive. If the interview takes place in the subject's office, is it neat? Cluttered? f it's neat as a monk's cell, the writer should say so. :f it looks like a monkey's cell, that should be said too, but in a way which is not insulting to your subject.
If the interview takes place in the subject's home, what is it about the place that reflects the subject's personality and character?
For example, if a John Wayne type character has his den decorated with ruffles and lace and painted in pastel colors, this tells something of his personality.
A quote is the written form of the words which people have spoken. Occasionally it will also apply to words they have written down, in a book or a press release.The alternative to using a quote is to rewrite the sentence into reported speech.
Proper Use of Quotes
The correct use of quotes is an important part of journalism.
We will look at the three different types of quotes - partial, incomplete and scare quotes - how they should be used and how they should not be used.
Why use quotes?
There are three main reasons why you should use quotes in print journalism:
1: Accuracy - If you repeat the exact words which people themselves used you will reduce the risk of misreporting what they say.
2: Clarity - When we give a person's exact words our readers can see both the ideas and the way they were presented.
3: Reality - People often use lively language when they speak. Quotes allow you to put that lively language directly into your story.
Proper Use of Quotes
Never start a news story with a quote. The most important reason for not starting a story with a quote is that a quote itself seldom shows the news value of your story.
It is your task as a journalist to tell the reader what is news. A standard intro in reported speech is the most effective method of expressing an idea.
Very few people speak well enough to say in one sentence what a good journalist can compress into a well-written intro. One of the few places where a journalist can occasionally begin a story with a quote is when writing features.
How often should you use quotes?
Although quotes bring a story alive, it is still possible to kill a good story by carelessness, particularly over-repetition.
Do not put in strings of quotes simply because you have them in your notebook.
Alternate quotes and reported speech, choosing those quotes which are especially strong and rewriting in reported speech those which are either too complicated or too long.
If you are going to quote a speech or a personal interview, never leave the first quote later than the third or fourth paragraph of the story.
If you cannot find a quote strong enough to go that high, you should question the value of covering the speech or doing the interview in the first place.
Proper Use of Quotes
There is seldom any excuse for using partial quotes, whether it is in an intro or in the main body of the story.
The main exception is when the words you are quoting are slang, such as "dead loss", "the bee's knees", or "junket".
If you do use a partial quote in the intro, you must give the full quote later in the story; otherwise the reader may believe that you are using slang.
Do Not Create Quotes
There is, of course, no excuse for making up a quote. That is one of the greatest sins a journalist can commit. It destroys your integrity and risks landing both you and your employer in an expensive action for defamation. Don't do it.
When dealing with quotes remember:
• Never begin a news story with a quote
• Try to keep a balance between quotes
• Take care when punctuating quotes
• Avoid partial or incomplete quotes
• Avoid scare quotes
Scare quotes are words or short phrases which are placed between quotation marks when they really do not belong.
Usually, the writer is trying to add stress to the words or to suggest something other than their obvious meaning.
Scare quotes are usually unnecessary and should only be used if you are confident they are required. The simplest reason for scare quotes is to add emphasis, which in literature is normally done by the use of italics.
Sometimes you may need to use a strong quote which does not actually contain all the information your reader needs in order to make sense of the sentence. This can happen because the person is speaking about something he or she does not mention in the actual quote itself.
In such cases you can insert the missing fact - often a name or a title - in square brackets - within the quote to show what you have done.
Whether you use a full quote, a partial quote or an incomplete quote, you must not take it out of context. The most common complaint against journalists - after that of misquoting itself - is the accusation that the reporter took the statement out of context
Incomplete quotes are slightly different to partial quotes. Incomplete quotes are full sentence quotes with some words left out.
They can be used if it is made clear that you have omitted some words or phrases without altering the essential meaning of the sentence.
This should not be done because you failed to make a note of the whole sentence, only if the part you want to cut is either insignificant or unconnected
Most journalists need a second pair of eyes to check through their copy in order to spot any factual, grammatical or spelling mistakes.
This is because it's often difficult to see where you have made errors.
We see and read what we think we have written. However, as more of us blog alone, without anyone to check our work, mistakes can get missed.
Tips for Spotting Errors
Try to fool the brain - change text size and colour, font and background
Don’t get caught up in the narrative - read from bottom to top so you are forced to think
Print and read out loud - to be able to hear silly mistakes in sentence construction.
Picking Up Mistakes
Since journalists cannot normally put work aside for a time and then re-read it, we miss the 'stranger's eye' that's essential for picking up mistakes. Our eyes might see the mistakes but our brain interprets what the eye sees as whatever we intended to write.
You can fool the brain by presenting the material in an unfamiliar way, thereby forcing it to see it as a stranger would. If you have time, print the article and re-read it. If you don't have time or paper, change the screen resolution, page width, text colour, background colour, or all of these.
This forces the brain to work as a stranger and you'll be surprised what you can pick up.
Update and Rewrite
Journalism is an ongoing commitment to update and rewrite. As soon as we press the save button the news we are publishing is likely to be out of date.
This means that, news, stories and features need to be continually modified, and text books and online modules continually revised and refreshed.
Journalists face the challenge of ensuring the material they produce remains relevant,
and they must keep up with changing trends and practices. The speed of technological development and the growth of social media, makes it an ongoing task.