Features: Fact with Fictional Flair

featuresI have been writing feature stories for quite awhile now, but I never thought about why this type of journalism appeals to me. I usually sum it up by saying: “I like telling other people’s stories.”

And that is where I got the name of my blog, “Storylines.” I feel as if every feature assignment is factually important. Of course. But there is a deeper, more personal story to be told, one that transcends facts. And that is the crevice wherein the mesmerizing stream of the story is born.

It’s not fiction. Of course, or it wouldn’t be “journalism.” But it’s a story, woven together to elicit a response. There is more to feature writing than the “who-what-where-when-why” of journalism. There is the story behind the story. The one that doesn’t neatly fit into the formula of factual journalism.
The one that resonates with the reader.

This is why I love feature writing. It lets me paint, rather than pen. Sculpt, rather than scribe. Touch, rather than tell.

My current online feature writing instructor from Gotham Witer’s Workshop, Patty Lamberti from Lifetime Television put it beautifully when she said, “Features tell a story. The best of them tell a story with extreme skill. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of feature journalism is that it employs the literary techniques of fiction—character, plot, description, dialogue, setting, pacing, voice, and theme.”

Character. Plot. Description. Dialouge. Setting. Pacing. Voice. Theme.  These are the characteristics of a good fiction writer – and of a good feature writer.

There is no formula for good feature writing. New approaches come along every day. And the best way to hone your skills is to read good features from the best of writers.

But there is a consistent thread that must be adhered to: feature stories MUST be based in fact. A great feature story demands the authenticity of a news article, accented by the stroke of humanity. And that requires insight, authenticity and genius.

The good news is that in real life, you don’t have to make a good feature story up. They are everywhere. All you have to do is listen, record, ask, weave, and then tell. All of these writing instincts reveal your capacity for tapping into the larger story.

And there always is a larger story to every headline, every news item, every neighbor, every person.

It’s their storyline. And if you are lucky, you can tell it.

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