My first attempt at feature writing, nearly a decade ago, was a total mess. I had interviewed the Malay rap group KRU and came back with all kinds of interesting nuggets of information. I tried to include all of them in my essay. I thought it was great.
Then I showed it to James King, a correspondent for the Financial Times, who told me that my story was too long, had no structure and basically went nowhere. “There are bits and pieces of interesting stuff you have in there but after reading the first few paragraphs, I'm totally lost. I don't know where the story is heading,” he said.
He was kind enough to give me a five-minute lesson on feature writing. I didn't know it at the time – and James didn't mention it either – but what he taught me was an approach developed by William E. Blundell who pioneered the technique for the Wall Street Journal (and later wrote a book entitled The Art and Craft of Feature Writing).
Blundell's technique is still used by the Journal and countless other papers. It's the technique I use for most of my feature articles. Here’s a simple outline of the Blundell Technique:
1. The Lead (Intro)
2. Nut Graph (Angle)
3. Main Body (Blocks)
4. Conclusion (Ending)
Let me elaborate further on the Blundell Technique:
1. The lead (or intro) for the article is typically three paragraphs long. It's usually an interesting anecdote that may not, at first glance, seem to be related to the topic at hand. Its purpose is to provide an interesting and simple-to-understand illustration of the issue you are writing about (the anecdote is basically a microcosm of the bigger story you intend to tell) and to draw your readers to the Nut Graph. (By the time they read the Nut Graph, they would have understood the lead's relevance to the story).
2. The Nut Graph is a paragraph that explains your entire article in a nutshell. Many writers find the Nut Graph to be the hardest aspect of feature writing. Once they’ve figured out their Nut Graph, everything else falls into place easily.
3. The main body of the article consists of several blocks, each representing a different aspect of the main story. It's always a good idea to pepper your blocks with quotes and examples to make it more interesting and credible.
4. The conclusion is something that ends your story with a punch. There several types of conclusions. The best kind usually contains a passage that either sums up and/or reinforces the central message of the story.