THE Southern Magazine: Jesmyn Ward

I never knew how great stories existed in the Oxford American. One interesting author, Jesmyn Ward, really sparked my interest. Her use of words shocked me and left me in awe.

I can relate to this author because I am 23 years old and I will be graduating in May, and I don’t know what road I will headed down next. However, I do believe my future is very promising. One particular issue the author and I have I common is that I DO NOT want to stay with my mother after college; but what separates us is that I most definitely refuse to stay with my mother. No thanks!

Her particular style of writing is a style that makes you think. She is provocative and charismatic and interesting and bold and poetic and strong. The list goes on! As I read her article, “Is Moving Back Home the Best or Only Option?” I thought to myself that I would be a great writer if I could achieve her level of writing. Then I thought about it-it’s not about getting to her level. It’s about creating my own and excelling.


Two Cool Articles

The two articles we read in class were pretty interesting. Steve Sheinkin’s “History With A Twist” was an interview piece, or as I like to call it, Q&A. The article featured questions about his books about history and his particular writing methods.

The line of questioning began as a boring day at the library. A few of them were pointless because there was nothing exciting about them. The purpose of a Q&A is to entice readers and make them eager to want to know the answers to those questions. My classmates weren’t eager at all to know the answers to those dull questions and neither was I.

“Clean and Fresh” is a lifestyle article by Lynn Lofton. This feature article is about a homeless community in Gulfport, Mississippi. The message I received was that homeless people want to have clean clothes and smell fresh just like people who are not homeless. It was very interesting because when you think about homeless people, you don’t think about them wanting to be clean and wear clean clothes. This article opened my eyes about the homeless community. Although it was very interesting, I would’ve loved to read more quotes directly from homeless individuals.

This piece inspired me to want to do more than just donate clothes, time and money. My dream is to be a millionaire by age 35, and one of my goals is to build shelters in Southern states, the first being Mississippi of course, for our homeless. You’ll never know someone’s story unless you listen, and I plan to listen and take action.

Freelancing part-time seems like a great hobby and financial opportunity

Drew Womack

In “Making it as a Freelancer”, Jim Collins does a great job of telling the reader  how to get into freelancing in one’s spare time.  Until now, I have not put much thought into reporting on the interesting people, places and events of my life’s experience and getting paid for it.  Mr. Collins makes me want to carry a notebook with me every day to record ideas for stories.  Also I loved his possible definition of a freelance writer as being a “stay-at-home dad having a midlife crisis”!  That made me laugh aloud.  That all being said, I will have to improve my writing and reading, as I have not done enough of either over the past five years, or maybe ever.

The two blog posts gave great advise for writing query letters.  I saved them both to my laptop for reference when writing my own.  The posts made me painfully aware of my lack of writing experience.  I’ll have to change that.

Week Three Blog: Trouble with Q&A

I was a writer for The Gamecock which was The University of South Carolina’s school newspaper and a fee lance feature writer for a few newspapers one in Columbia Sc and the other my hometown paper called The Item. There was a big scadal involving a football player whom i had a class with and my editor told me my “fun” assignment was to interview the football player and/or anyone else close to the story i.e his mom, friends. I was terrified to say the least. Everyone wanted to talk to the guy there was no way he was going to let me. Sure we had a class but we were not best buds. So i just maned up one day and asked him if i could take him to lunch and ask him so questions about what was happening. I was fully prepared for a piss off from him but he said sure (i later found out he thought i was cute). At that point i really became scared. What was i going to ask. Do i hit with the hard stuff, the uncomfortable questions, do i take it easy because i felt sorry for the guy what question do i ask that no one else will given the chance that i had gotten. I failed terribly. I asked terrible questions and got nothing real from this guy. My editor could not even use the stuff i had gotten. It was all shallow questions that he gave shallow answers to. I was afraid to offend him and he was really cute so i was scared and i let that fear keep my from getting the biggest interview at the time. Come to find out i was one of only two people he interviewed with. I did learn a lot during that interview. I learned about fear and about what to ask but i still hate the awkwardness of Q&A . I have learned to ask to hard questions and to really think hard about what i would want to know. It was a major lost opportunity but a learning experience. I still hate Q&A but at least now I’m no longer afraid.

No Limit

I was extremely confused about the correct definition of a feature story. A feature story is an emotional piece or article that is written to inform and entertain.

I actually like writing feature stories as opposed to writing hard news stories. Hard news is too based on the inverted pyramid style of writing, which means it’s like an uptight stockbroker with no love, no life, no family and has to constantly kiss up to his boss. It’s too structured and not much fun to do. What is the purpose of a lead? I understand that it “leads” the ready into the purpose and the meat of the news story BUT…. there goes that my creativity right out the window. 

Feature stories allow so much independence, and creativity is limitless. Readers can relate to feature stories more on a personal and emotional level. The story must have an interesting beginning, middle and ending as opposed to a news story which of course follows that good ole structured inverted pyramid style. I possess a vivid imagination so feature stories are right up my alley.

In chapter two, columns are discussed in great detail. I am a huge fan of the popular television show Everybody Loves Raymond, and the main character Raymond was a sports columnist for Newsday Magazine. He would interview famous athletes. I think that would be a wonderful job to have.

I love interview pieces, or as I like to call them Q&As. Q&As are very easy to destroy because some journalists can get very lazy and ask the worst questions. For example, if I were interviewing David Beckham about workout tips, I would not only ask about workout tips. I would question him about how much his wife enjoys his sexy body or if certain “positions” contribute to his well-defined six-pack.

Writing possibilities are limitless for us journalists, and I plan to explore every option. 


Story ideas from talking with people and personal experiences

Drew Womack

Talking with people is one of my favorite things to do.  I should read more and I intend to, but conversation may likely be my favorite source of story ideas.    My job as a bartender gives me access to a number of interesting people to talk with on a daily basis.  I enjoy the conversations and have gained many story ideas through the years.  My social life is also a great source of story ideas.  I have always been a fan of live music.  I know a lot of artists and could interview them, but I think some of the best stories may come from the conversations with the people behind the scenes.  Roadies, bouncers, and bar tenders usually see the interesting, yet subtle happenings a lot more often than the talent, and many are down right intriguing  on their own.  This being my favorite area of personal experience, and the access I’m granted with people in the local music scene will likely show in my feature writing.

Enjoying Telling True Stories!

I just wanted to express how much I’m enjoying Telling True Stories.  I can understand the process of feature writing much better when it is described in a specific scenario rather than a generic one.  It also doesn’t hurt that the pieces in this book are written absolutely beautifully!  Writing Feature Stories is great for giving examples of good ideas for features and features that were successful, but Telling True Stories gets more into what it is like to get in there and write them.  That is what I feel like I have been missing from other journalism textbooks.  It reminds me a lot of a book I read for a class in creative nonfiction writing called In Fact  which is formatted a lot like Telling True Stories.  


Tip for finding story ideas: Take an old idea and make it new

KaTrisha Dickinson

The idea of generating stories is a strong point for me as a writer. I have an inventive imagination and i see stories all around. The area of story generation i connect with the most is seeing something new in something old, or finding a new twist on an old story. I wrote a piece that won an award while i was on the paper for the University of South Carolina about tattoos. The law in Sc at the time was that tattoos were illegal to get in the state. The law was being challenged and everyone was writing about them but i took a different approach and  wrote about the art of tattooing in other countries and the connection with tattoos and spirituality. It was a different take on the story because all the stories at the time were about crime rate in comparison with tattoos and regrets of those who have them. I like to think outside the box so i can relate to that form of story generation the most.

Welcome to Feature Writing

Dear students!

Welcome to MCJ 301 Feature Writing. I am excited to be teaching this class, and I hope you are happy to be part of it. We will be exploring feature writing in this class. We’ll start on the first day with figuring out exactly what a feature story is — and how it differs from a “news story.” We’ll be discussing the writing process and how to interview and observe to paint a picture for readers. We will be reading other writers to learn from them, and you will have a chance to read each other’s work. You’ll learn in this class to report and write a feature story and how to submit it to magazines, newspapers or websites for publication.

On this blog, you will be posting your reactions to the readings we do in class. You’ll use this space to ask questions — and get answers from me.

Let’s get started!