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Friday, January 13, 2006

Feature Attractions - Freelance Writing Tip #12

Many people who decide on the freelance writing life are thinking of writing for magazines. If that's you, then you'll need to know something about feature writing.

Most feature articles do at least one of four things:

  • Inform
  • Help
  • Entertain
  • Persuade

  • Feature articles have almost as many structures as there are writers. Throw out the inverted pyramid common to news stories or, better yet, turn it upside down, so that your story is building to a big finish.

    Features are stories and should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think about what you want to say and arrange it in a logical order (not necessarily chronological), so you lead the reader along the path you have in mind.

    As with news stories, the intro (lead) is vital. This is what will draw your readers in. You can start with an example, an anecdote, a scene-setter or a quote from someone you’ve interviewed – anything that will grab the reader’s attention. I once started a feature on the YWCA with the fact that the leader of the Oxford branch had a buzz-cut and roller-skated into work. This is not common in the UK. The intro establishes your authority as a writer to inform the reader – don’t waste that opportunity.

    The middle of your story will contain the bulk of the information, anecdotes, quotes, assessment and analysis, depending on the type of feature article you are writing. This is a good place to include any useful statistics. If you’ve interviewed someone, use their words where possible to tell the story. This will make it lively and engaging.

    Endings should also be planned and shouldn’t be left to chance. This is your last opportunity to impress your reader. You may want to make a contrast with the intro (which should NOT be repeated) or to include a relevant quotation.

    Once you’ve written the story, read it back to yourself to see if it flows or if there are any loose ends to tie up.

    Don’t worry if you’ve got additional information that didn’t fit in the main story. This is the perfect chance to impress an editor. Editors are always looking for added value, so any sidebars or tables a freelance writer can provide will earn brownie points.

    I’ll be looking at feature types and feature preparation in more detail in future tips.

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