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Feature Writing

If you have ever wondered how difficult it could possibly be to string enough words together to fill the space between the adverts in your favourite newspaper or magazine, then CityVarsity’s feature writing course should be next on your list of things to do. The course covers the requirements and techniques for composing feature articles for almost any subject, from ‘how to’ features to blogging. The course is presented by Karen Jayes, an experienced journalist and subeditor for several major publications. We seem to be bombarded on a daily basis with stale opinion, verbose presentation of poor logic, and the products of handicapped intellects. I recommend this course to anyone that thinks that they can offer refreshing insights, offer sound commentary, and that can breathe new life into their favourite read.

Admission requirements 

  • Ability to write in English
  • A commitment to write hard for eight weeks
  • Some experience of the feature writing process

Course outline

The course will run over 8 sessions, twice a week in the evenings for 6 weeks, with assignments spread between the sessions. Session 1: The birth of the story Task: Writing and evaluating our own story pitches

  • Where do ideas come from?
  • Some tricks and tools for refining great ideas
  • The big ‘sell’: how to pitch your story so an editor will listen
  • The brief: Identifying key elements and running with them
  • Research: using the internet wisely and securing that interview

Session 2: Interviewing skills Task: Interviewing each other

  • Evaluating a source – are they reliable?
  • Structuring the interview
  • How do I know I’m asking the right questions?
  • Stumbling blocks: Anonymity and the tough subject
  • Etiquette: Note-taking tips, body language etc
  • Capturing character and scene

Session 3: The profile story Task: Write our own profile stories

  • What makes a great profile story?
  • Researching subjects prior to the interview
  • Adding colour and background
  • The Q-and-A structure
  • The nut graph structure
  • Working with the profile photographer – some tips

Session 4: The how-to feature Task: Write your own how-to feature with a specific magazine in mind.

  • Structure and function of the informative feature
  • Brainstorming methods
  • Laying it out
  • Closing holes
  • Fact checking, accuracy
  • Delivery

Session 5: The trend piece or ‘news feature’ Task: Write our own story map for a trend feature

  • What is a trend feature and how do I sell it?
  • Working with statistics and other scary figures
  • Selecting the right real people for the story
  • Mapping the story
  • The nut graph
  • The sequential block narrative and the double-stranded narrative

Session 6: Travel stories Task: Write our own travel piece on Cape Town.

  • Types of travel stories – narratives vs. informative Lonely Planet stories
  • Red flags: Total immersion and cultural stereotyping
  • Free writing as a technique to capture scene
  • The ethics of travel journalism – what if I haven’t paid for the trip myself?
  • Photography and delivery
  • The art of the short travel piece

Session 7: Columns Task: Write our own columns.

  • What makes a good column?
  • Finding your voice
  • Emotion vs. argument – how to back-up your points well
  • Writing sharp, to-the-point columns
  • The humorous column

Session 8: Editing for online

  • How Google searches for features
  • Some tricks for Search Engine Optimisation (keywording for Google)
  • The art of the subhead
  • How to create meaningful links
  • Media convergence: working towards a multimedia journalism

4 Practical sessions