Feature Writing: Language and Structure

If a feature is written right it will maintain the reader’s interest.

Start with your intro, make sure it is interesting and grabs the readers attention. Ensure to include the who and what, and perhaps the when and where too, of the story. You can be creative; you are entertaining as well as informing.

You can start your feature with a question or a quote. With questions, ensure you know how your reader will respond because if they do not respond correctly they will be disenchanted by your feature and will not read further than the introduction.  With quotes, you need to pick something intriguing and definitely not bland to encourage the reader to continue past the introduction. You can use humour, but make sure your humour carries well in the text as jokes that work well in conversation often fall flat when translated to print.

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Introductions can work like the beginning of a film. They start with an establishing shot, a wider overlook, and then narrow down until you have a close up and in a feature, you get to your point so that the reader can then continue on with the main bulk of text.

The second paragraph, after your intro, you are building on the information already set up. Often this paragraph will set up the angle of the piece. In the third paragraph, you should tell your reader what the feature is actually about and then ‘[s]ubsequent paragraphs offer the reader more facts, anecdotes and quotes’.

The ending of the piece should reach a natural conclusion and neatly wrap up the entire feature. The ending may echo something mentioned in the intro to further bring the piece full circle.

Now you can see the beginning, middle and end of your feature, but you cannot just leave it at that. You must ensure that all sections link into each other. Use transition words, linking words, bridges to allow your writing to flow and keep the interest of the reader. These transition words or phrases will be found at the beginning or end of a sentence or paragraph. Examples are: however, perhaps, but, again, nevertheless, first, primarily, on the other hand, finally, and, because, although, in general, on occasion…

You can use a theme to help your piece flow successfully. Introduce it in the intro, refer to it throughout your piece and then use it in to wrap up at the end. Use specific words and phrases that relate to the theme to keep it in the reader’s mind.

Make sure you pick a tense and stick to it. Past tense is common in news stories, while present tense is common in features. Whichever tense you do use, though, ensure it is consistent.

There are conventions when it comes to tense and features: it is customary to write in the present tense when reviewing ongoing work (a book, a long-running play, a 30-gig band tour) and the past tense when reviewing one-off performances etc. Television reviewers always write in the past tense, but film reviewers tend to use present tense.

When it comes to quotes, introducing them can become tiring and repetitive especially if you constantly use the word ‘said’. Think of other words to use, but make sure they fit the sense of your writing and are appropriate, such as: commented, claimed, added, went on, remarked and you can use phrases like ‘she sobbed’ or ‘he laughed’ if appropriate and fits the tone of the article. However, try not to overuse these.

The average word length of a feature is between 800 and 1,500 words. Remember that your feature should not reflect the time you spent researching for it. You have to be concise and brutal when leaving information out that isn’t going to add anything to your piece or make it interesting to a reader.

Don’t procrastinate. It can be daunting knowing you have 800 – 2,000 words to write and not a single one already down on the page, but make sure to just start. Remember, the piece doesn’t have to be perfect in your first draft: this is why we edit and proof read. You’ll more than likely be up against a deadline and have no time to put off writing anyway. Another tip is to write your feature as soon as possible after your interviews, while the information and ideas are rich in your mind.

If you struggle to find an angle or theme of which to focus your feature through, imagine you are telling a friend about what you have found out – which bits would you want to tell them first? What is the most interesting part?

NOTES IN THIS POST ARE FROM: SUSAN PAPE AND SUE FEATHERSTONE, 2006, FEATURE WRITING: A PRACTICAL INTRODUCTION, LONDON: SAGE. P66 – 78 (CHAPTER 6)
I DO NOT OWN THE ABOVE IMAGE, IT IS FROM: http://www.ayalamuseum.org/2015/05/22/feature-writing-workshop/
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