By Laura Smith
September 15, 2008
The feature story is one that is composed of intrigue and a hidden reality. Feature stories bring out the extraordinary in the ordinary, the celebrity in the human being, and even the normal in the seemingly amazing. These stories focus on another dimension to a person or subject. They bring out the harsh or wonderful realities that one cannot normally see when looking for themselves.
In her story, “Dr. Seuss: Wild Orchestrator of Plausible Nonsense for Kids,” Washington Post writer, Cythia Gorney, shows the normalcy of a seemingly un- normal literary icon, Dr. Seuss, better known as Theodor Seuss Geisel. She begins her story with the history behind Seuss’s commencement of his famous artwork. After briefly summarizing Seuss’s success, she mentions his humble childhood and the current, private lifestyle he leads.
Associated Press reporter, Saul Pett, does just the opposite in his story, “Koch Grabs Big Apple and Shakes It.” In his feature story, Pett exposes the popularity and gumption of the then- New York City mayor who may seem to most as an unsuccessful, unmotivated, disliked man. Pett uses a handful of adjectives to describe Koch, along with some of the history behind his political career as well as personal life.
Because of this deeper look that is encompassed in a feature narrative, the reader is able to see the inner story and the true person the writer wants to expose. One example of this is the Pulitzer Prize winning “After the Storm’s Fury,” by Chicago Tribune writer, Julia Keller. In her article, Keller shares the tragedy of a small Illinois town when it experiences an awful tornado. She shares the experiences of several of the citizens affected, giving life to an otherwise ignored community. Keller also incorporates a map of businesses and shops it as well as a timetable of the events after the tornado did its damage. Due to such detailed imagery and personal accounts, Keller is able to make the reader apathetic to a situation they make have just ignored and changed the channel from on the evening news. She brings this small town to life and shows that everyone is vulnerable.
Another great feature story is Megan Gambino’s “A Yankee in China,” published on Smithsonian.com in August of 2008. Unlike Keller, Gambino profiles one individual instead of several, but the concept is still the same. Gambino follows the experiences of Great Wall British authority, William Lindesay, who decides to re-trace the steps of William Edgar Geil, the first person to cross the entire Great Wall of China. Gambino recalls Lindesay’s first passions with Geil’s accomplishments and then gives the reader historical background of Geil himself. Gambino also incorporates up-to-date information on Lindesay’s work on Geil, which includes an exhibition in Beijing. In covering the story from all angles, both on Lindesay’s work as well as Geil’s, Gambino is able to display how much one individual can be influenced and motivated from another. One again, this reiterates the way feature writing brings about the inner realities of a human being.
Rick Bragg follows the common feature story theme of making an ordinary, commonly ignored event into something worth celebrating. In his New York Times story, “Another Battle of New Orleans: Mardi Gras,” Bragg brings glory to the events known as Carnival that is held by the poorer inhabitants of New Orleans’16th and 17th Wards, which celebrates African American and Native American culture: a somewhat smaller version of what most people know to be Mardi Gras. Bragg begins with an intriguing lead describing the rituals of New Orleans resident Larry Bannock getting ready to celebrate. Bragg also goes into great detail of a description Bannock: “he is 6 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds…this 46-year-old black man is a carpenter, welder and handyman.” This description gives the reader a picture in their mind of an individual so passionate about the event. Later on, Bragg gives the origin of Carnival as well as the different groups involved and how the celebration is run. Through all this, Bragg brings grandeur and intrigue to something that otherwise may have been unknown.
In the National Geographic feature article, “Bolivia’s Wrestlers,” author Alma Guillermoprieto focuses on Bolivia’s popular sport of women’s wrestling. He leads in by describing the scene of a wrestling match. Instead of boring the audience with informative wordy jargon, Guillermoprieto paints a picture of this cultural tradition for the reader. He continues his scene- setting story by describing the actions of two of the wrestlers during a match. This allows the reader to better understand the events of the match. Another way Guillermoprieto brings the story to life is through the account of Juan Mamani, the man in charge of the Bolivian wrestlers. He uses descriptive narrative and incorporates a good amount of quotes to express Mamani’s feelings regarding his job. From this story, the reader can see how the sport is so important to Bolivia’s culture.
Another great example of feature writing is seen in “Elephant Management.” Written by Karen Lange in National Geographic, this story really caught my attention, as I am a huge elephant lover. Lange describes the horrific process of elephant culling in Africa, which is performed in order to keep the population down. What she gives is a detailed and graphic picture of a harsh reality. Lange begins her moving account by describing a culling. She ends the lead with “the carcasses were gutted, and the skin, meat, and tusks trucked away for processing at the abattoir in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Only the innards—and bloodied ground—were left behind.” Now that hits at the reader’s emotions, one major component of feature writing. Lange also uses a great deal of statistics throughout her story, which only adds to the emotional element of her writing.
Another addition that brings out the brutality of the cullings is the use of photographs in the story. The photographer does not hold back and displays the hard truth of these acts that are being performed on these animals. Lange also incorporates interviews from individuals on both sides of the issue, for or against. This gives the article a fair and balanced perspective, something a feature story must encompass.
Feature writing allows readers to gain a new perspective on a subject or person. It doesn’t follow the typical newsy journalism pyramid or play by strict rules. It has fun with stylistic writing and creates another way of looking at something. Feature stories are sure to entertain and dig up the excitement in the seemingly boring or the humbleness in the seemingly glorified.