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Writing the Newspaper Feature Article

By Wendy Dager

It was a stroke of luck that got me writing feature articles for the Ventura County Star’s “Life” section. Luck and knowing someone—in this case, the assistant opinion pages editor, for whom I was already writing a freelance column every other week. Sure, I was lucky to get into “Life,” but I am also a decent writer—an “easy edit”—a trait that’s kept me on the lifestyle editor’s list of dependable freelancers. Long gone are the days when the hard-nosed editor with a heart-of-gold nurtures a writer who has potential but requires a lot of editing. Today’s editors are too busy doing their jobs to play mother hen. They want someone who can jump in, get the interviews done, do the research, write the story, and turn it in before deadline. If you can do all of this, you’re halfway to being able to write a feature article. Now all you have to do is turn yourself into an easy edit. Here are a few guidelines to help you on your way.

Familiarize yourself with the publication.

You don’t have to write like everyone else, but you do have to match the tone of past articles. If your style is too different from the status quo, your work may not ever make it to print. While newspaper editors do encourage individuality among their feature writers, the bottom line is readership—and, generally speaking, subscribers don’t take too well to changes in form or content.

Remember that feature articles are fun.

Not that every topic is a bunch of laughs—for instance, I’ve written articles about breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, and head lice—but feature writing means you get to use a little color in your story. Adjectives are welcome here, as opposed to the hard news department, where too much description is taken as editorializing. However, you may wish to pump up your descriptive main story with a statistical sidebar, if applicable.

Don’t go over the word count.

That means you have to self-edit, which is sometimes difficult. Put your ego aside and cut unnecessary stuff—before you submit the article. That means you may have to delete something you consider brilliant. Believe me, it’s not as fabulous as you think it is. If it isn’t crucial to the development of the story, it’s best to get rid of it. This sacrifice won’t guarantee that your editor will fall in love with you, but she’ll appreciate the effort.

For me, writing feature articles has been a series of rewarding experiences. I’ve covered a variety of topics, met some interesting people, and learned how to write what I believe is the purest form of creative nonfiction—news stories with flair.

—Wendy Dager is a freelance writer. Her work appears regularly in the Ventura County Star, and her articles “Writing Newspaper Opinion Articles” and “Creating Greeting Cards” have appeared as chapters in “The Writer’s Handbook.”



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