Feature stories are a great way to get your name and work out there. They can also help your career in journalism and other media fields.
However, writing feature stories is not as easy as it sounds – you need to find an interesting topic, research it, interview people involved in the story, write up your research and make it interesting for readers.
In this article, we’ll look at how to do all these steps successfully so you can write your own great feature story!
The value of feature stories
A feature story is a long, in-depth article usually written by a single reporter. Feature stories are often (but not always) accompanied by pictures and graphics. They're typically published in the local newspaper or magazine section.
The word "feature" can be confusing because it means both "special" and "characteristic." Features can be about people, places, events or ideas—but whatever they are about should have special significance for your audience.
For example, a recent local story about an alligator living in Lake Ontario was considered newsworthy because of its novelty value (it's never happened before). Still, it doesn't focus on anything specific about gators, lakes, or Toronto that would make this topic particularly interesting to the readership. So we wouldn't consider running it as a feature story (even though the piece was well-written).
Feature story ideas are everywhere. The trick is finding them. Here are some of my favorite ways to find story ideas:
One of the best ways to find story ideas is to find a current event that is interesting to people. A feature would be a longer follow-up piece to the breaking story. A follow-up to a breaking story or an exclusive will likely interest a major outlet.
Most readers are interested in people
People are interesting. Therefore, the best feature story ideas focus on interesting people.
People are more interesting than places and things. An interesting person trumps events, ideas, facts and data — so think about how you can make your story about them (and not just what they did).
Listen to the people around you
A great place to start is the people around you. Listen to your friends and family because they are often a good source of inspiration. They will be able to tell you about their own experiences with whatever topic you're interested in, and these stories can make for good storytelling material.
You can also listen to people that aren't in your life all that much, e.g., those who work at the grocery store or drive an ice cream truck down your street.
The more time you spend observing others, the more likely you might find something interesting about their lives or jobs that could spark feature story ideas.
Finally, it's important not only to listen but take note of what you're hearing. Write down good ideas as they come up, so there's no chance of forgetting them when it comes time for brainstorming sessions later on down the line.
Search for topics using keyword tools
When you start researching a topic, you'll want to use keyword tools to find the most popular keywords for that topic.
A keyword tool will give you a quick overview of what people are searching for about your topic and how many searches there are for each term. These are valuable metrics because they show what consumers are interested in at any given time.
For example, if you search "how much money do artists make?" on Google Trends, it gives a graph showing that this question has been asked frequently over the last year (and even longer).
The graph also shows how often people searched for each variation of this question, like "how much money do writers make?" or "what's an artist's salary." This is helpful information when deciding which idea is best suited for your audience.
Attend cultural events in your community
Attending cultural events in your community is a great way to find story ideas. You can meet new people, learn about different cultures and experience new things.
Researching your idea
To write a good feature story, you need to start with research. Here are some things you should do:
Google it. If there are companies or people that specialize in what it is you want to write about, Google those keywords and see if they come up on the first page of results. Also, look for other places that might be able to help—local newspapers and magazines, industry publications, etc., as well as any blogs or podcasts related to your topic (or even unrelated).
Use your own experience. If there's something in your work background that relates—whether it's having worked at a certain company or being familiar with certain technical terms—use them. Readers love seeing someone who knows what they're talking about taking them on an insightful journey through their field of expertise so long as they don’t come across as pretentious or arrogant.
Talk to people who have experience in this area, too, both professionals working in the industry and non-professionals who may just be enthusiasts. This way, there'll be more voices contributing great ideas, which makes your feature story stronger than just relying upon one person alone.
Interviewing is a great way to get your story ideas and fill in the details. You can interview people who have experienced or studied whatever it is you're writing about, whether it's an expert in the field or just someone who has been through something similar.
If you're writing a story about becoming a professional ice skater, for example, interviewing other athletes might give you insight into what their training regimen was like and what challenges they had to overcome.
If you want to write about how technology affects our relationships with friends and family members, interviewing people who love Facebook Messenger might give them enough material for an entire article.
When interviewing people, focus on getting information rather than making them feel uncomfortable or stressed out—that way, they'll be more likely to open up with deep thoughts and feelings instead of just giving short answers.
Ask open-ended questions like: "What made this experience difficult?" or "How did this affect your life?" These questions will help guide them toward talking about their experiences without coming off as manipulative (which could lead them away from being willing to share).
When recording an interview on the phone (or via video chat), use good equipment so that everything sounds clear when transcribed later on.
Hold conversations in quiet rooms if possible. Find headphones that don't make noises when clicking around buttons.
Record at least two different perspectives even if one person may have said something better than another person would've been able to say themselves.
Creating a structure for your story
The story structure is the foundation of your story. You can't build a house without a solid foundation, and you can't write an article without one, either.
Before you start writing, take some time to plan out your story's structure by answering these questions:
What are the main points I'm trying to make?
What order should I put them in?
How much information do I need before I can begin making those points?
Writing and revising your feature story
After you finish writing the feature story, the next step is to revise it. If possible, you should use a spell checker and grammar checker before submitting your article to an editor.
Make sure that the piece is clear and concise by revising it repeatedly until every sentence makes sense on its own without needing any context from another sentence or paragraph (or from other articles).
Check that all of your facts are accurate. Make sure that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all correct. If anything is wrong with them, fix those errors before submitting a piece for publication.
Finding your audience (getting hired)
For your feature story to be picked up by a newspaper or magazine, you need to know its audience. You should be able to answer these questions:
Who is this story for?
What do they want to read?
What are they interested in?
Why should they care about what I have to say? And how can I make them care more?
Once you know the answers to those questions, it’s time for research. Go out and find some stories that have already been written on the subject (there are plenty of resources available online).
Read through them carefully and see what makes them interesting or unique. Think about what could make yours stand out from all others—what angle could make it more engaging for your target audience? Then use that as a starting point when writing out your own proposal.
As a features writer, your main goal is to find an interesting topic to write about, do the research and develop a story that other people also find interesting.
You'll need to research to find out what the audience of a particular newspaper or magazine is interested in. You can then take this 'intel' and create an interesting feature story that an editor would love to publish - good luck!