e’ve all heard the warning, you’re doomed to lose your reader unless you get the five W’s out in the first paragraph of your journalistic piece. We live in a fast paced world and your reader needs to know why this piece is important, right now. Otherwise, they’ll get bored and move on to eating ice cream, or, whatever. I’m here to tell you that that’s not the case. At least, not when it comes to writing feature articles.
Sure, it’s important to deliver the basics.
- Who – the wizard
- What – fell off his broom while flying
- Where – at Hogwarts
- When – yesterday
- Why – he couldn’t keep his balance during the quidditch match
- How – he was hit by a bludger
But don’t put these factoids in your lede. You heard right, ignore the first commandment of Journalism your professor told you about in year one and go for the deadly sin. Use your first paragraph (and maybe even the first two or three paragraphs) to set a mood and invite your readers to delve into a story instead. Here’s your chance to hook your reader, all in one neat little ice cream cone.
(Did someone say double puffle ice cream cones?)
Ok, so there isn’t any ice cream, but you can see what I did there. I will deliver on nuts; however, in the form of a nutgraf. Here’s the nugget where you explain why your readers should care about your piece. It’s where you explain why this story is worth being told. Bury it three or four paragraphs in. Was there a competition for most amazing Minecraft creation last week and your subject won with his giant rhinoceros?
(The dog is wondering why he didn’t win a prize, too.)
Then move on to the body of your feature. Educate, entertain and emotionally connect your readers to your subject while weaving in vital information. Did it happen to be an endangered species of rhino and your subject is an animal advocate? Is he sending his winnings from the competition to the Save the Rhino fund? Link it in.
Let your personality shine through. Unless your personality is obnoxious, then don’t do that. But in most cases, a little bit of personality will lend your article authenticity and maybe even some magic.
I practically melted into a little puddle of suspense when I read Leslie Jamison’s article, Fog Count, excerpted below:
I first wrote Charlie a letter because I was fascinated by his life. It gave me a sense of vertigo to know that when we’d met, in the hills of Tennessee, he’d had no idea what was about to happen, how everything was going to change. I wondered what incarceration was like for him.
She reveals her personality in a way that keeps the spotlight on him and, simultaneously, makes you feel connected to her. Do this.
In your wrap up, remember to return to your lede. A feature usually ends with the person or event it started with. Revisit that thread and top it off with a quotation or surprising climax. Or more ice cream.