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Features and soft news often begin with
several paragraphs of copy that engage the
reader before getting on with the main
elements of the story.
After the opening grabs a reader, narrative
“hooks” are used to persuade the reader to
continue reading.
Hooks can use action, mystery, drama or
Focus is on narratives that come to life
through colorful description, anecdotes and
Features can be told out of order or even as a
Hard news stories: you, the writer, make the
point, set the tone and frame the issue in the
first paragraph or two.
Features: the writer can develop the storyline
in a variety of ways and choose to postpone
the main point until later in the copy or even
at the end.
Every story should have a clear organizing
principle that pulls the reader through the story
– a narrative thread:
 Chronological order
 Logical progression
 The “little e” theory of narrative: start BIG
and work around that issue in a circular way.
Inverted pyramid: works best for hard news
Martini Glass: Start big, end big. Could be in
chronological order. Good for crime stories.
The Kabob: Also known as “The Circle” or “The
Diamond.” Good for stories on how people are
affected by a topic. Popular for writing features.
Begin with quote or
anecdote about a
specific person or topic.
Broaden into a general
discussion of the topic.
It ends by returning to
the person or topic at
the beginning.
An opening anecdote
Then follow with the “nut” paragraph or
paragraphs: similar to a lead in the inverted
Details: this includes background.
Close with anecdote: if you begin with a
character, you may want to end with the
same character. This person is a “case study.”
Remember, your audience can sense a
disorganized story. So one way to organize your
ideas into a story could be like this:
 The issue or problem
 How it got that way
 Where we go from here
OR, more specifically …
Look: this person has a problem. (case study!)
Uh-oh: the problem is everywhere. (broaden!)
What the experts say. (interviews!)
What the future holds. (analysis!)
What it all means for that person we met at
the end of the story. (back to the case study!)
This approach is popular.
So how do you begin a feature story?
Style and substance of the writing features
and soft news differs from hard news.
Direct lead (hard news) v. Delayed lead
(features and soft news).
Here is an example of the delayed lead:
“Jack Loizeaux is a dentist of urban decay, a
Mozart of dynamite, a guru of gravity. Like
Joshua, he blows and the walls come tumbling
Scene-setting lead: painting a picture with
words of a place or person.
“With his suitcase and checkbook in hand, Ted
Teng ventured off to the far corners of Asia to
do some serious shopping.”
Anecdotal lead: a specific incident or
example that illustrates a larger situation.
From Dan Ralescu’s sun-warmed beach chair in
Thailand, the Indian Ocean began to look, oddly,
not so much like waves but bread dough.
If you try an anecdotal lead:
Make sure your lead is accurate and fits with
the story’s theme;
Be sure to segue into the story quickly;
DON’T use the ever-popular ”John Doe is
typical of ….”
Also AVOID “John Doe never expected….”
Narrative lead: describes a sequence of
events, somewhat like an anecdote, but in
this case the story is not an example of a
larger situation.
To find a lead for features, think about the
elements of the story first. Which are the
strongest elements?
Description – describing a person, a group or
a scene. Think about color and details.
Anecdotes – stories that can be “entry
points” for a larger narrative.
Action – describing people doing things
The “angle” or theme: what the story is about
and whether you have a novel way of
approaching it. (a story about fishing… from
the point of view of the fish!)
Background information
Your reporting and observations.
“Good” quotes: colorful, descriptive, showing
emotion – help fuel a good feature story.
The “angle”
Background information: how much, how
important and what is the context?
John McPhee’s approach:
 Identify all themes. Summarize in a sentence
or two.
 Place each summarized theme on separate
index cards. Put cards in order that they will
follow in the story.
 Place your notes by theme.
 Look through cards for a major theme.
Another rule of thumb:
 If someone asked you to write a headline for
this story—precisely explaining it in just a few
words—could you do it?
 If the answer is yes, take those key ideas from
the headline and build the rest of your story
around it.
 If the answer is no… do more reporting!
Savor the atmosphere
 Infusing stories with a sense of people and place is
Be creative about settings for interviews.
 Ask to shadow your source for an afternoon.
Interview everybody, not just the “smart”
The writing style should be informal, but not
casual. Use your voice.
Make sure your lead fits with the overall
theme of the story.
If you decide to find a person to place in the
lead, she needs to be directly involved in the
topic you are writing about.
Remember: readers respond to people in
stories, whether they appear as words in a
print or Web story, or video for television.
Speaking of people, show them doing things
and talking in your stories. Dynamic is
Good quotes keep your story moving.
Show, don’t tell: use strong verbs that convey
action, and fewer adjectives. “He walked
slowly” is both boring and uninformative!
The end has to be strong – it is called the
“kicker.” Leave the reader thinking.
Vary the length of sentences and paragraphs.
Shorter paragraphs are better.
Write one idea per paragraph.
Remove trite, trendy phrases for a simple
Read what you write. Then rewrite it.
Don’t hype – understate. Let the readers
paint their own mental picture based on your
Don’t give away everything at once.
Rewrite, refine and shorten constantly: omit
needless words.
“Good” stories come from good material.
Good material comes from good reporting.
Paraphrase routine quotes.
Don’t use quotes in chronological order.
Know your story and the tone you will use.
Like a great book, you will need a good plot.
Show, don’t tell.
Success breeds success:
 If you write good, hard-hitting stories on your beat, the
people who hate—or love!—the people you write about
will contact you.
Indirect sourcing can pay off:
 If you can’t get directly to the people with the info you
need, find out who might know them. Never be afraid to
say, “Do you know someone who might have this
Writers are people on whom nothing
is lost.
▪ Keep your “string.”
Read everything: history books,
guide books, blogs, local websites:
▪ You never know where your next story idea
will come from.
Always practice your interviewing
skills. Be curious!
Newspapers, magazines, TVs, radio, websites
News releases (university e-mails)
Friends, classmates, teachers, janitors – all of
these and more may provide great ideas.
Plain old brainstorming – look around!
And as with any story, ask yourself:
Is it timely?
Is it relevant?
Will it stand the test of time?
Will it make a difference?
Does it serve multiple purposes?

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