“A well-developed story idea, through reporting, a sound story structure and wordcraft makes for a feature story readers remember.” Wordcraft can refer to the specific way a writer writes, or their voice. Both Chapter 11 in Writing Feature Stories and Part V of Telling True Stories talk a lot about finding one’s writing voice. It is helpful to the story and to readers if the writer writes much like he/she speaks. Readers love it when they feel as if they are having a conversation with the writer, and therefore can remain interested in the story even after they are done reading it. Susan Orlean explains that, “Developing a writer’s voice is almost a process of unlearning…Truly great painting retains some element of a child’s emotional authenticity. Great writing does, too.” Writers must first understand who they are and why they write to begin the journey of finding their writer’s voice
Another technique to make yourself known in the article is putting yourself in the story itself. This is only a good option when your presence in the story improves the story. Other factors of wordcraft include animating the inanimate and providing a rhythm and tone.
I’ll start by saying I lost my copy of “telling true stories”. Distraught, I scoured the internet looking for an online version where I stumbled upon Kobo. I bought the book there for $13, and downloaded Kobos person library. I highly recommend it. I’m able to make annotations much easier than with E-reader and I can change the coloring (I concentrate better with background color or multicolored words). Also, I was able to buy Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean in”. I guess I know what I’ll be doing with me weekend.
In telling true stories IV Debra Dickerson reiterates the importance of misquoting someone or failing to understand the situation correctly. Speaking from personal experience I can understand how aggravating it truly is to be misquoted or have what I’m trying to explain taken the wrong way, especially in arguments with a certain someone.
Debra gives a perfect example of being misunderstood, and it actually changed her the way her character was perceived to readers in IV:
The Washington Post published a big spread about my first book, An American Story, and about me. It was extremely positive but included one quote meant to illustrate—as the writer noted—my immaturity.The problem was, the writer had misinterpreted what I had said. During the interview in a café, I looked out the window and a woman walked by. She wore a very hip dress with the most hideous shoes. There was no way that someone with the sense of style to choose that dress had intended to wear those shoes with it. I wondered to myself, “Did she just have a fight with someone?” I was thinking of a time that I fought with my boyfriend and then left in a huff. When I got home, I realized I had put my dress on inside-out. As I was thinking all of this, I said out loud, “Nice dress.” I looked down, stared at her feet, and said, “The shoes don’t match.” He printed what I had said as if I were judging her. Actually, I was empathizing with her.
In this situation Debra was actually empathizing with this girl on the street not judging her for the shoes she wore, but the writer failed to understand the situation properly. He could have avoided this by asking Debra more questions. He could have made a response to her statement, and then she would’ve had the opportunity to explain her true feelings which would have made for a more personal piece than simple assuming it was her immaturity.
Chapter 11 in “Writing Feature Stories” is full of need-to-know information when writing a feature story, such as tone of voice, quotes, opinions and links.
The book says strong quotes bring features to life but overuse is commonplace. The four reasons to quote features are revealing of character, credibility, variety, and punch. We’ve discussed in class to not reiterate what we’ve already written with quotes and not to quote things that can be written better.
The books also gives the advice to show, not tell, in a feature story. This is super important because feature writing should be creative enough that it paints a picture for the reader. I don’t want you to tell me what you’re seeing, write it as if I’m looking at it myself.
In this section, I also learned a little about inserting your own opinion. The book advises learning as much as possible about an issue before inserting your opinion. I’ve never inserted an opinion into a feature piece, and certainly not a news story. I didn’t even realize it was OK to do so until I read this in the book.
Chapter 11 of Writing Feature Stories discusses when it is appropriate for a journalist to put him or herself into a story. I think the book puts it very well by suggesting the writer ask himself- will my presence improve the story? I agree with the chapter’s point that good writing is not just choosing the right words, but developing a style. I think the more a person writes, the more that person begins to develop their own style and the more defined the style, the more it adds to the story. I like the quote by Hence White, “To achieve style, begin by affecting none..”
I particularly enjoyed reading the section on voice in Part V of Telling True Stories. I absolutely love Susan Orlean’s juxtaposition of developing a writer’s voice with children’s process of painting. Children are often way more creative at painting than adults are. A child may paint a picture of a pink and purple spotted horse because children have less of a sense of how things should or should not look according to the real world. Orlean said writing is the same; developing a writer’s voice involves getting in touch with that child-like emotional authenticity. I think Orlean is dead on with this point. You can’t invent a voice, so taking a true look at yourself, how you would speak to your friends in everyday conversation or how you would tell a story at the dinner table, will help you discover your own voice as opposed to forcing a voice that you think you should have.
The section I found the most useful in Chapter 9 of Writing Feature Stories was sifting and sorting through raw material. I am the most unorganized mess that ever existed in the journalistic world. Whenever I conduct an interview, I scribble chicken-scratch on the front, back or corner of whatever medium I have handy to write on, which always leads to unnecessary amounts of time sifting through information later. The chapter gives really good advice on how to organize and pick out the important pieces of your notes to cut the time it takes to extract the good information and write the most successful feature story. One of my favorite pieces of advice is to note the themes that emerge as you read back through the notes. Picking out clear themes can help you determine which direction to take your story.
In Part IV of Telling True Stories, Deneen Brown made an interesting point on beginning a feature story. He said to successfully begin a story, the writer must decide what larger meaning the story represents and lead the reader to that. Even though I sometimes struggle with doing that, I completely agree with him. That’s why it is so important to identify major themes before attempting to write a feature. A theme helps you determine what mood you want to set from the very beginning, which is important because that shapes how the entire feature is written.
Sometimes the lead can be the hardest part of your story, but once you get it, the rest falls into place. This chapter reminded me of some important things to remember when I write a lead for a story, especially a feature. A lead should let readers know what your story is about, even if they read nothing else. A lead should also be relevant to the feature’s theme and simple to understand. There are, of course, different types of leads: summary, suspense, descriptive, anecdotal, and surprise. I normally use summary or descriptive for my leads. After reading this chapter, though, I noticed that I’ve used anecdotal leads, as well. I haven’t heard much about types of leads other than summary. The chapter also discusses the “big lump in the middle,” or the story. The story itself needs to be organized and flow. This is a big deal for me when I’m writing ANY piece. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order, but it does need some sort of flow. The book offers this advice: Keep related material together, let what you have written suggest what you write next, try to isolate material from one source in one place and, finally, digress often, but not for long. Features differ from news in a lot of ways, and creativity is one. It’s much harder to be creative in a news piece, but features allow us the privilege to really set the scene and make a story interesting, so an interesting lead and story structure is essential.
As I mentioned in my last post, getting started is the toughest obstacle to overcome. The daunting expectation of a extraordinary lead is to blame for that. If your article is exciting and informative, but lacks an attention grabbing lead, you’re doomed from the get-go. Luckily chapter ten of Writing Feature Stories gives some pointers on how to write leads. The most important thing is to make sure your lead (and story in general) have a clear theme, whether that be love, hate, determination, fear, shame, etc. Once the theme is decided you can now start thinking about which kind of lead to write. Is it going to be a summary lead, a suspense lead, descriptive lead, anecdotal lead or a surprise lead? Some may even be a combination of two of these, but they all must be relevant to the theme. Whew. Once the lead is completed, you have to write the bulk of the essay. “It might help to imagine the reader as a blind, caneless person; it is your job to guide them through your house”, author Ricketson suggests. We as journalists forget that our readers may know nothing about the subject since we have been researching it tirelessly. Here are some things to remember…keep related material together, transition what you’ve written into what you’re about to write, isolate material from one source in once place, and also digress often. Finally you can end the article by circling back to a point that was made in the lead and broadening the scope of the story into reader’s every day lives.
In class Monday, we will be discussing writing leads — one of the most difficult parts of any story. Leads are difficult because they frame the whole story, and sometimes when we are writing them, we do not yet know what the story is really about. Plus, they are the first part of the story, so without a good lead, we know our readers will quit.
Here are some examples of compelling leads from the Poynter Institute. We will be discussing why they work — and what we can learn from them — in class.
Organizing is my enemy, in every aspect of life. The main thing that jumped out at me while reading last week was the quote, “If you refuse to write until inspiration strikes, you may end up rushing the piece, risking factual errors and structural flaws and you may miss the deadline altogether.” Being an artist, I have the habit of not doing a piece until I gain inspiration, and although writing can be a form of art, I have to break myself of that habit. While reading week 7’s excepts I learned a lot of tips and techniques on how to organize a story, which is what always holds me back from starting it. The first thing to do is sift through all of the raw material and the more you have the better, and too much is never a bad thing. The next important thing to do is create the structure. You can do this by first enticing or alarming the reader, then tell them why they should continue reading, give evidence to back up why they should be interested and then finally find a way to imprint the story in their minds. It seems so simple now and I am anxious to see if those tips help with my feature story.