Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vieth's Six Secrets of Successful Feature Writing


1) The best way to improve your writing is to improve your reading.

If you regularly read the best writing you can find, you will begin to absorb its characteristics by osmosis. Your vocabulary will expand. Your wordcraft will improve. Your words will flow more gracefully and powerfully. It’s analogous to an Olympic athlete’s training or a master craftsman’s skills.

2) Great stories start with great ideas.

Ideas trump writing. The ability to generate good ideas – and turn mediocre ideas into better ones – is highly valued in the journalism marketplace. If you display that ability, you are likely to be recruited into the ranks of assigning editors, managing editors and editors-in-chief. Some of the best idea generators are not great writers.

3) Great stories are based on great reporting.

The quality of your stories is a direct function of the quality of your material. The better you research and report, the better your articles turn out. A mediocre writer working with extraordinary information will produce more interesting stories than an extraordinary writer working with mediocre information. Material matters most.

4) Every story should answer two basic questions: What’s the point? Why should I care?

In almost all newspaper features, these questions should be addressed in several paragraphs, appearing before the jump. Magazines allow more freedom, but still want summary and significance in most stories. In a verbal story pitch, you should be able to express them clearly in a few concise sentences.

5) Good writing connects with one of the big themes that resonate with readers:

-turning points
-life and death
-love and loss
-winning and losing
-alienation and reconciliation
-triumph and tragedy
-underdogs and long shots
-heroism and villainy
-kids and animals

6) The most important skill of all is time management.

None of these pointers will help you a bit if you put off starting on your stories until the last minute. The biggest single cause of low grades in my classes is poor time management. Even professional writers tend to underestimate how long it will take them to complete an assignment. It’s called “magical thinking.” Don’t let it be your downfall.

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