By Erin Valentine
Feature writing has the stereotype of being light and fluffy. While sometimes a feature may actually be about an underweight koala (get it?), feature writing has actually become an integral part of journalism. Profiles and features connect with readers and keep their attention on the story. People are nosy. They love to read about other people. Today, journalists need to have an understanding of great feature writing and be able to implement aspects of it in into practically every story they write.
“Dr. Seuss: Wild Orchestrator of Plausible Nonsense for Kids” by Cynthia Gorney; The Washington Post, May 21, 1979
I have never really thought of Dr. Seuss past all the green eggs and ham and one fish, two fish. Gorney’s story opens up an entire new world of Seuss. She brings his personality and story across the page and into the reader’s imagination, where it is exactly that Seuss thrives. Gorney weaves a wonderful article of humor and reality of a true genius.
“Koch Grabs Big Apple and Shakes It” by Saul Pett; Associated Press, November 30, 1980
Pett does an amazing job of communicating the conflicting and overwhelming personality of Koch. With great storytelling, you can just see Koch talking and throwing his hands up, clearly not giving a thought to what others think of him. You feel a strange connection to this man that did what he thought was best, no matter what.
“A Sentimental Journey to La Casa of Childhood” by Mirta Ojito; The New York Times, February 3, 1998
In the explanation before the article, Ojito explains that she didn’t really think about writing the article, she just did it. Knowing this fact as I read her article really hit home because it flows so easily and it is so raw and true. She spins a beautiful story of remembrance and acceptance. In a time where people are thought to be divided, Ojito proves that support can be found in the most unexpected places.
“For Lerro, Skyway Nightmare Never Ends” by David Finkel; St. Petersburg (FLA.) Times, May 5, 1985
Finkel let Lerro tell the story. He let Lerro be himself and say his side of the story without it sounding like he was making excuses, which is was not. He allowed for Lerro to come through the words and for his predicament to become clear to the reader. Finkel translated Lerro’s story so that it was the true Lerro who told the true story.
“A Beautiful Find” by Tommy Tomlinson; The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, November 16, 2003
Math is usually the downfall for many writers. Tomlinson makes the concept of a difficult problem, even for those who live and believe mathematics, understandable. With clever breaks and just enough repetition to make his work flow, Tomlinson brings the reader into an amazing, underrated accomplishment in the world of math, and the man behind it.
“Life, Death, and Corruption on an African Mainstream” by Blaine Harden; The Washington Post, November 8, 1987
Harden spins an interesting recollection of a riverboat that travels on the Zaire River. He tells of the unidealized reality of the boat’s expeditions. He gives the reader a peek into the lives of the floating market and the effect of the governmental corruption.
“Ah, What a Day!” by Ken Fuson; The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, March 16, 1995
In one of the best run-on sentences I’ve ever read, Fuson manages to convey the feeling of warm wether in Iowa in one sentence. Using parallels and word play, he makes his light piece fun and entertaining, with only the use of one period.
Other Examples of Feature and Profile Stories
“Pearls Before Breakfast” by Gene Weingarten; The Washington Post, April 8, 2007
A 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, Weingarten spins a wonderful recollection and history of a world-class violinist who plays undercover in the subway. Not only did the stunt provide a lot of probing questions into what makes great music great, but also to the lack of appreciation people have for a distinguished musician playing in their midst.
“Fatal Distraction” by Gene Weingarten; The Washington Post, March 8, 2009
Once again a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2010, Weingarten’s article on forgetful parents leaving their children in cars to die have a completely different tone from “Pearls Before Breakfast”. Weingarten brings the reality and unimaginable sorrow to the reader. He brings in the cold facts about a terrible accident that happens far too often.
“The Bravest Woman in Seattle” by Eli Sanders; The Stranger, June 15, 2011
In an incredibly moving and sad story, Sanders told an amazing of a truly brave woman who recounts her rape, and the murder and rape of her partner. The details of the courtroom, and the woman’s true determination to tell the story, were conveyed very well in a very engaging an sobering manner.