A feature story differs from a straight news story in one respect—its intent.
A news story has information about an event, an idea or a situation. A feature story has that and more—it may interpret news, add depth and colour to a story, instruct and/or entertain.
- Ideas come from everywhere. Watch, read, listen, keep up to date, take notes.
- Talk to people outside the field of science to find out what interests them and what concerns them.
- The introduction is the most important part. Entice your reader; draw them in using drama, emotion, a quotation, a question and/or a description.
- The body of the story needs to keep any promises or answer any questions which you raised in the introduction. Try to maintain an ‘atmosphere’ throughout the story.
- The conclusion should help readers remember the story. Use a strong punchline.
Writing the story – 12 tips
- Be clear about why you are writing the story. Is it to inform, persuade, observe, evaluate or evoke emotion?
- Focus on human interest—the feel and emotion you put into the story are critical. Don’t think about writing a ‘science’ story; think about writing a ‘human interest’ story.
- Accuracy is important—you can interpret and embroider but not fudge.
- Keep your readers clearly in mind. What are their desires? What really matters to them?
- Interview people for your feature story in-depth and in person rather than over the phone. You’ll get a lot more colour and detail.
- Interview more than one person to get a more complete picture, but don’t add sources just to show how much work you’ve done. Be ruthless about who you put in and who you leave out.
- Use anecdotes and direct quotes to tell the story. Try not to use too many of your own words.
- Decide on the tense of your story at the start and stick to it. Present tense usually works best.
- Write in the active voice. In active writing, people do things. Sentences written using passive voice have things being done ‘by’ someone, or things being done anonymously. Passive voice makes your writing sluggish.
- Avoid clichés (cutting-edge, world-beating, revolutionary) and sentimental statements, especially at the end of your story.
- Don’t rely on the computer spellchecker.
- Avoid lengthy, complex paragraphs. Your story will appear in columns, so one or two sentences per paragraph is enough.
Getting published – 9 tips
- Select your market. List six magazines that could buy your story and study them. The articles, advertising and letters to the editor will give you vital clues into the interests and demographics of the readers.
- Read the publications you want to write for. A surprising number of writers don’t, and it shows.
- Send the publisher a proposal rather than a complete story. Include good examples of your previously published work.
- Write what the editor wants to publish, not what you want to write. Study the editorial and pieces by staff writers—they are aimed precisely at the publication’s target readers.
- Download the publisher’s editorial style guide for the publication and apply their style guidelines to your story.
- Submit your story typed and double-spaced.
- A picture sells the story. Offer good quality images as prints, transparencies or digital files. Check with the editor for their preferred option.
- Let the editor/deputy editor in the media outlet know you are sending them a story. Follow up with a phone call a week or so after you’ve sent it.
- Send your story to only one print media outlet initially. If they don’t want to use it within a set time period, send it elsewhere.