Feature

Types of Feature Writing

1. General: a catch-all

2. First-person: spend time with a subject or in a situation and write about your perspective.

3. Broken-line feature with a narrative focus: story begins with a narrative lead and then mixes the rest of the narrative with paragraphs filled with information.

4. Broken-line feature with an informative focus: story begins with an informative lead and then mixes in the rest of the information with narrative moments.

5. Unusual feature: a story that rhymes, uses song lyrics as a structure, is just one sentence long, etc. (-Diane Tent)

6. Short narrative: a narrative story that focuses completely on one moment and is typically less than 10 inches.

7. Reconstructed narrative: a story that unfolds like a movie or book, but because the main moments happened in the past, the reporter relies on multiple interviews to recreate the scenes.

8. Serial: a story that unfolds over multiple days or weeks and has "teasers" compelling the reader to look for the story again.

Requirements for a narrative story

1. Engine: a reason compelling your reader to continue with the story. This doesn't have to be what you lead with, but you need to set it up early and keep the drama unfolding.

2. Focus: you need to be able to say what your story is about in one sentence. It's even better if you can do it in one word. Pick your quotes, details and scenes with this focus in mind. Ask yourself, what is the mission of this story.

3. Meaning: communicate to the reader why you are writing this piece. For a good narrative, tossing in a bunch of details and scenes doesn't do it. You need to think about what this "slice of life" says about our world and/or the times we live in.

4. Details: you can't do a reconstructive narrative with a main source who doesn't remember what kind of car they were driving or who answers, "I don't know, just because." You can't do a narrative if you didn't get enough in your notebook. Think narrative when you see a moment or a character that is overflowing with sights, sounds, tastes, quotes and — most important of all — meaning.

5. Access: you can't do a narrative if you aren't allowed to be there. If your subject's parents don't want you following them on the first day of school or the hospital won1t let you into the waiting room, do the story another way. It doesn't have to be a narrative.

What’s hard about narrative?

1. Teaching yourself to think narrative while reporting.
Write down the color of the carpet, the way someone blushes, the number of times a baby's heart beats in a minute. The devil is in the details and, just like a photographer, you can't go back to the scene.

2. Teaching yourself to think narrative while interviewing.
Asking people about the color of the carpet, getting them to describe how their body reacted, finding out where people sat and how they held hands. You have to try different strategies for helping people remember.

3. Selling narrative to your editors, especially for the front page.
At smaller newspapers in particular, editors aren't sold on the narrative style. They are still preaching inverted pyramid and "getting the news first." While there is nothing inherently wrong with this type of writing, it isn't always the best way to tell a story. You need to be an advocate your own stories.

4. The writing process.
Inverted pyramid stories are easy to write. But with narrative there are so many more options. It helps to view the story like a movie. Think about the most interesting place to start — usually this is the part of the story you would tell your friends about first. Then create an outline. Make sure you always know where you are going.

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