Outlines Will Save Your Life

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I have never written an outline for any of the stories or articles I have written. Outlining was always my least favorite part growing up and going through public-education English classes. I get it’s useful for some people, but I always ended up changing things from whatever was in my outline. It was all just a waste of time for me.

I might jot down a few short notes that make sense to me and only me, but I have never done a formal outline, which is apparently very helpful when writing and makes your writing better. See, a lot of people like organization. Even people who think in a very disorganized way (myself included) like organization when it comes to writing because it is all just easier to follow and understand. If the story is disorganized,  no one will understand what it is about and lose interest in the story.

So outlines are really good for keeping stories organized, apparently. First, you have to make sure you know what kind of story you are hoping to write, because you can’t outline a short feature story the same way you would a long news story. Then you can figure out what parts of the story are going to go where to make it a coherent story.

I know as I improve my writing it would probably be in my best interest to start outlining my stories instead of just diving in and writing it. It’s just quicker that way, so I like it better, and I rearrange the story as I go along. That’s the wonderful thing about using a computer with cut and paste capabilities. Essentially, if someone wants to be a good writer, they should not follow my example. They should outline.

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Going Beyond News Writing

Feature writing seems to be it’s own creature completely separate from news writing. I think not every news writer can be a feature writer, and vice versa.

Not only does the Feature Writing textbook explain how feature stories must be organized differently than news stories, but Telling True Stories talks about how the entire approach for the two stories is totally different. The Feature Writing textbooks says feature stories need to read more like a story. It’s not just about reporting the facts, but instead going deeper into the subject matter. It should lure the reader in instead of giving all of the important information right off the bat. It is the type of story that a reader should really devote time to, which to me seems more difficult than a news story. A whole news story should be interesting, but it is more important to make the first part of a news story very strong, and not so much the second part, because at that point it is just expanding on details and information. Feature stories need to keep the reader’s attention from beginning to end.

Telling True Stories was all about how to approach a feature story. You can’t just set up an interview with a source, meet at some place, ask some questions, and both go on with your days. Feature writing is a project from beginning to end. You really need to engulf yourself in the story to really understand the subject matter and find something that people didn’t know about. Even if it is something that people experience, like a break up, a feature story could shed some light on it from someone who has experienced a unique break up. This is another way that feature stories seem to be more difficult than news stories. As long as you collect the facts, you have a news story. Features aren’t about facts, but about the portrayal of the subject. It reminds me more of visual art than of a news article. A feature story to me seems like something that engulfs your life. It’s a real skill that not a lot of people have. I hope I can have it one day.