How to Write Feature Stories

A folded newspaper on a table.
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Newswriting is great, but for those who love words and the craft of writing, there's nothing like producing a great feature story. Here we'll cover everything you need to know about producing great features. You'll see how to craft a terrific feature lede, discover the key ingredients of any good feature, and learn about the different kinds of feature stories.

What Are Feature Stories?

Ask most people what a feature story is, and they'll say something soft and puffy, written for the arts or fashion section of the newspaper or website. But in fact, features can be about any subject, from the fluffiest lifestyle piece to the toughest investigative report. Features aren't just found in the back pages of the paper, the ones that focus on things like home decor and music reviews. In fact, features are found in every section of the paper, from news to business to sports. Feature stories aren't defined so much by subject matter as they are by the style in which they are written. In other words, anything written in a feature-oriented way is a feature story.

Key Ingredients for Cooking Up Terrific Feature Stories

Hard news​ stories are typically an assemblage of facts. Some are better-written than others, but they all exist to fulfill a simple purpose - convey information. Feature stories, on the other hand, aim to do much more. They convey facts, yes, but they also tell the stories of people's lives. To do that, they must incorporate facets of writing often not found in news stories, ones that are often associated with fiction writing, including description, a greater use of quotes, anecdotes, and sometimes extensive background information.

Writing Ledes for Feature Stories

When we think of newspapers, we tend to focus on the hard-news stories that fill the front page. But much of the writing found in any newspaper is done in a much more feature-oriented way. Writing ledes for feature stories is a very different craft than writing hard-news ledes. Hard-news ledes need to get all the important points of the story - the who, what, where, when, why and how - into the very first sentence. Feature ledes, sometimes called delayed leads, unfold more slowly. They allow the writer to tell a story in a more traditional, narrative way. The objective, of course, is to draw the reader into the story, to make them want to read more.

Different Kinds of Feature Stories

Just as there are different kinds of hard-news stories, there are lots​ of different kinds of features. Some of the main types include the profile, the news feature, ​the trend story, the spot feature, and the live-in.

What You Should Use and Leave Out

Beginning feature writers often wonder how much of each ingredient to include. In news writing, the answer is easy: Keep the story short, sweet and to the point. But features are meant to be longer, to tackle their topics in greater depth and detail. So how much detail, description and background information is too much - or too little? The short answer is if something helps support or amplify the angle of your story, use it. If it doesn't, leave it out.

Use Verbs and Adjectives Wisely

Most editors will tell you that beginning writers need to use fewer adjectives and stronger, more interesting verbs. Here's why. There's an old rule in the writing business - show, don't tell. The problem with adjectives is that they don't show us anything. In other words, they rarely if ever evoke visual images in readers' minds, and are just a lazy substitute for writing good, effective description. Editors like the use of verbs because they convey action and give a story a sense of movement and momentum. But too often writers use tired, overused verbs.

Producing Great Profiles

The personality profile is an article about an individual, and profiles are one of the staples of feature writing. No doubt you've read profiles in newspapers, magazines or websites. Profiles can be done on just about anyone who's interesting and newsworthy, whether it's the local mayor or a rock star. Too many reporters think they can produce quick-hit profiles where they spend a few hours with a subject and then bang out a story. That won't work. To really see what a person is like, you need to be with him or her long enough that they let their guard down and reveal their true selves. That won't happen in an hour or two.

Writing Great Reviews

So you want to be a critic? Does a career spent reviewing movies, music, books, TV shows or restaurants seem like Nirvana to you? Then you’re a born critic. But writing great reviews is a real art, one that many have tried but only a few have mastered. Read great critics and you’ll notice something they all have in common – strong opinions. But newbies who aren’t quite confident in their opinions often write wishy-washy reviews. They write sentences like “I sort of enjoyed this” or “that was okay, though not great.” They’re afraid to take a strong stand for fear of being challenged. But there’s nothing more boring than a hemming-and-hawing review. So decide what you think, and don’t be afraid to state it in no uncertain terms.