Feature writing tips, tricks and hacks to write great nonfiction stories

    Plus a great example by Rick Bragg from The New York Times.


    By Rob Melton
    Michigan journalism teacher Betsy Pollard Rau remembers the first time she read Rick Bragg’s story for The New York Times “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University.” The story, published on August 13, 1995, was about Oseola McCarty, who donated $150,000 she made from doing laundry, so black students could go to the university in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

    “I always tear up,” said Rau.

    It was such a powerfully told story that from that moment forward she used it as an example of great human interest writing in her high school and college level classes.

    McCarty died a few years ago and Rick Bragg did the eulogy at her funeral. She did get to attend the graduation of the first recipient, too.

    “His imagery is so wonderful,” said Rau.

    If you are just learning how to write a feature story, or you are about to teach others how to do it, we have some tips, tricks and hacks that will help get you started.

    There are a number of free, useful tools to learn how to write great human interest stories like the one by Bragg.

    What is a feature story?” From Homer Hall and Aaron Manful is a good place to start. You can read this excerpt from their textbook Student Journalism and Media Literacy.

    If you suddenly find yourself teaching others about human interest feature writing, you’ll want to read “Human Interest Feature Writing” by these top journalism teachers.

    In 2011, Lori Oglesbee was the keynote speaker at Fall Press Day sponsored by Northwest Scholastic Press. Her presentation “Tell them a story worth remembering” is a great way to get started.

    One of the pioneers in how to craft dramatic nonfiction stories using conventional storytelling techniques is Jon Franklin’s excellent book Writing For Story. An excellent excerpt to use with students who are beginning storytellers is this excellent excerpt on dramatic outlining, point of view and story organization. Franklin taught creative writing the University of Oregon, was the head of the technical journalism department at Oregon State University, and a Journalism professor at his alma mater, the University of Maryland.

    Use our story planning forms to get started.

    The conventions of traditional nonfiction narrative journalism are covered in the News Writer’s Handbook  based on the University of Oregon SOJC’s stylebook used by undergraduates at the university.