Learn What a Feature Story Is

Find Out How It Differs From Hard News

couple reading newspaper in coffee shop
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Ask most people what a feature story is, and they'll say something soft and puffy, written for the arts or fashion section of a newspaper or website. But the truth is, features can be about any subject, from the fluffiest lifestyle piece to the toughest investigative report.

And features aren't just found in the back pages of the paper—the ones that focus on things like home décor and music reviews. In fact, features are found in every section of the paper, from news to business to sports.

If you go through a typical newspaper from front to back on any given day, chances are, the majority of stories will be written in a feature-oriented style. The same is true on most news websites.

So we know what features aren't—but what are they?

Feature stories aren't defined so much by subject matter as they are by the style in which they're written. In other words, anything written in a feature-oriented way is a feature story.

These are the characteristics that distinguish feature stories from hard news:

The Lede

A feature lede doesn't have to have the who, what, where, when and why in the very first paragraph, the way a hard-news lede does. Instead, a feature lede can use description or an anecdote to set up the story. A feature lede can also run for several paragraphs instead of just one.

Pace

Feature stories often employ a more leisurely pace than news stories. Features take the time to tell a story, instead of rushing through it the way news stories often seem to do.

Length

Taking more time to tell a story means using more space, which is why features are usually, though not always, longer than hard news articles.

A Focus on the Human Element

If news stories tend to focus on events, then features tend to focus more on people. Features are designed to bring the human element into the picture, which is why many editors call features "people stories."

So, for example, if a hard news story recounts how a thousand people are being laid off from a local factory, the feature story might focus on just one of those workers, portraying their emotional turmoil—grief, anger, fear—at losing their job.

Other Elements of Feature Articles

Feature articles also include more of the elements that are used in traditional storytelling—description, scene-setting, quotes, and background information. Both fiction and non-fiction writers often say their aim is to help readers paint a visual portrait in their minds of what's happening in a story. That's also the goal of feature writing. Whether it's by describing a place or a person, setting a scene, or using colorful quotes, a good feature writer does anything he or she can in order to get readers engaged with the story.

An Example: The Man Who Played Violin in the Subway

To demonstrate what we're talking about, take a look at the first few paragraphs of this April 8, 2007 feature by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten about a world-class violinist who, as an experiment, played beautiful music in crowded subway stations. Note the expert use of the feature-oriented lede, the leisurely pace and length, and the focus on the human element.

"He emerged from the metro at the L’Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.
"It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.
"Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?"

From Gene Weingarten's "Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out."