How to Write Feature Stories

A folded newspaper on a table.
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For those who love words and the craft of writing, there's nothing like producing a great feature story. News features differ from hard news stories in tone and structure but are just as vital to readers' experience of a newspaper, website or magazine.

What Are Feature Stories?

Most people think of a feature story as 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 found just in the back pages of the paper, the ones that focus on things like home decor and music reviews. 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 they are written in. In other words, anything written in a feature-oriented way is a feature story.

Key Ingredients

Hard news​ stories are typically an assemblage of facts. Some are better-written than others, but they all exist to fulfill a simple purpose: to convey information. Feature stories, on the other hand, aim to do much more. They do convey facts, 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.

Feature 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 ledes, 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 different kinds of features. Some of the main types include:

  • The profile: An in-depth look at a newsmaker or other personality
  • The news feature: A hard-news subject told in feature style
  • The trend story: A breezy look at a current cultural phenomenon
  • The spot feature: A quick, deadline-produced story, usually a sidebar to a hard-news story that gives another perspective
  • The live-in: In-depth piece of a place and the people who live or work there

What You Should Use and Leave Out

Beginning feature writers often wonder how much of each ingredient to include. In hard news writing, the answer is easy: Keep the story short, sweet, and to the point. But features are meant to be longer and 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: The old rule in the writing business is, "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; they 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. Too often, though, 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. Profiles can be done on just about anyone 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 them 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

Does a career spent reviewing movies, music, books, TV shows, or restaurants seem like Nirvana to you? If so, you’re a born critic. But writing great reviews is a real art that many have tried, but few have mastered.

Read great critics and you’ll notice something they all have in common—strong opinions. 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 OK, though not great.” They’re afraid to take a strong stand for fear of being challenged.

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.