“What is a Feature?” or “China? Really?”

Let me take you through a hypothetical situation. You are married and enjoying your 14th anniversary in Belgium, and then your spouse decides to go alone to China, without knowing any Chinese, without any plans to get money, and without getting asked to do so by anyone who would help with the expenses.

Now for a question, is your spouse insane?

No matter the answer, that is exactly what acclaimed writer Gay Talese did. He recounted this story in the textbook Telling True Stories to give an example of what feature writing can be, but what I want to know is what it is liked to be married to a feature writer.

What is it like to be Nan A. Talese when her husband’s job is to dedicate his life to spending months on end trying to learn everything about stranger?

That dedication is what I think of when I think about feature writing. By definition, there needs to be a devotion and specialization.

This is where I take issue with the book The Art of Feature Writing. In AFW, feature writing is broken down into a formula, a template that can be thrown on a news story so it can masquerade as a feature.

While that practice common in journalism (heck, I know I’m guilty of it while writing in Hattiesburg), but it just seems deceptive. The pressures of trying to fill a daily, particularly a local one, almost require some surface level features.

This is where AFW redeems itself a bit. The concept of a feature story being able to come from somewhere personal resonates a lot with me. What can make writers more devoted or insightful about something than actually caring about it?

And if that’s the case, Mr. Gay could write Nan’s story. It may not be all that dramatic though, considering Nan is actually is in the story industry herself. Bird of the feather, I guess.