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Feature Stories: What You Should Use, and What You Should Leave Out

Include Whatever Supports the Angle of Your Story


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We've talked about the key ingredients or components that make up a feature story. Beginning feature writers often wonder how much of each ingredient to include.

In newswriting, 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.

Using Description

Let's see how this works in practice with one of the ingredients - description.

Let's say you're profiling a professor at your college. Your angle on the professor is that he's a brilliant but quirky man, someone known for being just a bit odd.

So when you're deciding how much description of him to include into your story, use the material that supports and elaborates on the idea that he is quirky.

This would probably be good:

Professor Jones wears a pink bowtie that clashes with his mud-colored shirt, a tweed jacket with frayed sleeves, and too-long trousers that almost, almost hide his incongruously bright blue sneakers. His office is jammed with so many books and papers that the walls are no longer visible, and he mutters to himself as he tries to locate a particular notes he's left himself.

This, on the other hand, doesn't add much:

Professor Jones drives a beige Japanese minivan. He lives in a ranch-style home on Elm Street.

See the difference? The first example reinforces the idea of Professor Jones as an oddball; the second doesn't, so leave it out.

Background Information

Okay, let's try the same thing with another ingredient - background information. Again we'll use the odd Professor Jones as an example. Below are two passages of background information on Professor Jones. Decide which better amplifies your angle:

1. Professor Jones was born into a middle-class family in Denver. His father was a schoolteacher, his mother a nurse. He was valedictorian at his high school graduation and went to Harvard University on a scholarship.

2. As a boy Jones had few friends and often spent long hours in his room alone, reading. But in high school he found an outlet in the school newspaper, where he wrote book reviews that his teachers found startling for their subtlety and complexity. In his valedictory speech at high school graduation, he alluded to the great authors he admired - Proust, Shakespeare and Melville.

Seems pretty obvious, right? The first paragraph is a paint-by-numbers account of Jones' early life that offers little beyond some dull facts. The second offers a window into the mind and personality of the professor as a young man.

So when you're going through your reporter's notebook after a long interview, deciding what to put into your story and what to leave out, always remember the angle of your story.

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