Making an impact with your feature
Johann Hari hit the big time when he infiltrated the far-right by shagging a neo-Nazi, and Samantha Brick was catapulted into the public eye she opened up about why other women hate her.
Shameless confessions are one way to grab the reader’s attention and start a great feature. But that alone won’t win them over. As with news, there must be a top line. You can start with something colourful to set the scene and catch the reader’s attention. Maybe include a joke. But make sure you get to the point quickly, at least by the third paragraph.
The scenario intro is a classic. Take the reader to where you are with a description, although don’t overdo it with hyperbole. Each word must be there for a reason otherwise you waste the reader’s time.
Once you’ve got the reader’s attention, guide them through and keep their interest by making sure each paragraph relates to the previous one. Imagine you’re having a conversation with a real person and don’t want them to switch off. Keep it punchy by varying sentence length and including new facts.
Features are an opportunity to explore the wider implications of the news. Whether it’s trying out a new sports craze on campus or some weird vodka, or going undercover with an extreme political group, a feature must inform must also entertain. Remember this when pitching ideas – you’ve got to spin a story out, is it interesting enough?
Researching the piece thoroughly is just as important as writing it well. but don’t worry if loads of crucial questions you wish you’d asked occur to you the minute you leave an interview. That’s normal.
Do take down the contact details of every person you deal with, as well as their full name and age. It sounds like common sense but is easy to forget when doing a million other things for your piece. Be polite even if you don’t like someone, and if you’re writing as someone else, be credible – believe you are that person.
The last line matters as much as the first. Don’t leave abruptly. That’s rude to the person who’s given a chunk of their time to read what you have to say. Save up a good quote, or conversational line because final impressions count.
The best feature writers read a lot. If you aren’t at least reading the Sunday Times, you’re unlikely to produce gold.