Sunday 8 March 2015

Writing Feature Articles: Laying the Groundwork

"Too many students mistake reporting for a journalistic version of a police dragnet.  They pull in everything they can find and then try to figure out what the story is.  Such an approach results in stories riddled with holes and lacking any dominant focus." 

Before you set out to write an article, you have to lay the groundwork.  First, make sure you have the right angle.  Zero in on the story.  Bring the lens in tight.  Don't write about the playground.  Write about the two boys who are jockeying for a spot on the jungle gym.  Don't write about the battle. Write about the soldier who has returned from Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Don't write about the tornado.  Write about the pastor whose church building is as flat as a pancake.  

Second, do your homework.  Read up on what has already been written about the subject.  Find out what areas have not yet been touched upon.  Identify sources for the story.  Who are the authorities who can give you their expert opinion?  Who are the "street level" people who have lived the experience?

Third, establish a strong theme.  According to Larry Brooks in Story Engineering a powerful theme can get your story published (see (  The same is true in the newspaper and magazine world.  Make sure your article's theme is clear and concise.  "Writers who fill stories with exhaustive documentation but fail to establish a clear story line file copy that reads like a government report."  Your aim as a writer is to both inform and entertain your readers. 

William Blundell, in The Art and Craft of Feature Writing (, recommends that you write a theme statement before you conduct your research and reporting.  "Entering the reporting process without one is like running through brambles instead of along a clearly marked path."  A theme statement allows you to write with purpose.

Here are some useful questions recommended at to help you lay the groundwork for your article:

1.  Is the story's scope too broad?
2.  Do I have time to report and write a story of the scale I'm proposing?
3.  Am I getting down to street level in my reporting?
4.  Can I establish an element of surprise or anticipation at the outset of the story that isn't answered until the end?
5.  Does something happen in the story?  Does something change?  According to Jon Franklin in Writing For Story:  Craft Secrets of Dramatic Non Fiction (  "A story consists of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he confronts and solves."
6.  Does the story's contemporary context or past make it more interesting to tell?

Become a Magazine Editor Step 5.jpg

No comments:

Post a Comment