Before you start writing a feature article ask yourself one thing: “Does this feature really interest me?” The answer must be yes or you’ve got little chance in getting your reader interested.
Here are some things to consider when you are putting your feature together:
Once upon a time…
Features writing is different to news writing. Find an angle, preferably human. Readers are looking for more than facts and an angle will give you a story. And we all love a good story.
But don’t make it a novel
Say what you want to say in as few words a possible. (See points on editing below.) Once you’ve finished the first draft, cut it in half. You’ll be surprised how easy this is to do and how much better it will make your piece by weeding out the unecessary.
Try this: help the reader get past the first paragraph
Opening sentences like “John and Mike opened a business two years ago” doesn’t create any reader interest. It’s like first impressions – hook the reader. Make them want to read more. Will you be teaching them anything? Or engaging them in debate perhaps? Let them know straightaway.
Did somebody say something?
People are interested in people, so try and include some dialogue where possible. However, break it up a bit. A lengthy scroll of dialogue is also boring to read. Be careful though – if your subject is saying something, make sure it adds to the piece and is not gratuitous.
Don’t be blasé
If you are researching something, do it well and check your facts. Quote sources. Because if you get it wrong in the public domain, people will soon let you know.
Unfortunately, nobody is interested in us
Features will often focus on a human angle. However, as a feature writer, it’s best to keep yourself out of it. Readers will trust you more if you remain objective. Providing different angles gives you credibility. Providing just your own view just makes it less interesting. Save that for the pub.
Finally, editing is the new writing
Most writers spend the majority of their time editing than actually writing the first draft. It sounds obvious but check your work. Not once, or twice. Three or four times at least. And please don’t send something in saying “just delete what you don’t like.” That’s an editor’s bug bear.
Here are some key things to look out for during the editing process:
- Repetition. This is often the biggest weakness in a feature. Don’t waste the reader’s time by repeating something you’ve already said (yep, even if you are saying it in a different way).
- Look for variety in your sentences and paragraphs. Read it aloud before you submit. Do all of your sentences sound long with lots of commas? Short is usually better than long. But even then, only variety will keep people interested.
- Can you make your feature shorter? The answer will most likely be yes. So cut stuff. Half of it, preferably.
- Does everything you’ve said have relevance or does it detract from the flow of the piece?
- Don’t fall in love. Sometimes we just love that sentence. But if it’s not right, cut it. It will really stand out to others.
- Avoid clichés. Say everything differently.
- Spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you re in doubt about a specific grammar point, look it up.
- There’s temptation to use clever language. Don’t – not if you can find more everyday language to use in its place. Big words can make you (the writer) look stuffy and too ‘writery’. Worse still, it will probably make the reader give up reading. (Open a page of Hemingway – count the long words… none right?)
- Finally, use everyday language over bureaucratic talk. ‘He reached out to Jane’ sounds a little chewy, whereas ‘He called Jane’ sounds less like an HR job description.
Keith Lewis is a Brighton based copywriter and has written features and thought pieces for various publications.