How to Write a Personality Feature Story
Whether you're profiling a local war hero or a film star coming to town, the goal of a personality feature is to give readers insight about what makes the person's story special. Unlike a hard news story, which summarizes the essential facts of an event, the personality feature offers a detailed look at its subject, using vivid language and description to illustrate the person's passions and values.
Choose a Subject
Select subjects who distinguish themselves in some way, with whom readers can identify. For example, while a classmate who performs community service and plays the cello may not be newsworthy, a classmate who wins a national community service award or signs a contract with an orchestra fits the bill, states the Cub Reporter website. Choose two other sources to flesh out your story. Pick a different angle or subject if other publications have run similar stories.
Do Your Homework
Research your subject's life and career to determine your story's focus. You might start with online searches of old newspaper articles. Review his website or ask him to email his resume, if necessary. Talk with people who know the subject -- including coaches, friends and relatives -- to further sharpen your focus and devise possible interview questions. The more you know about him, the more freely your subject will talk.
Get an Interview
Schedule an interview at your subject's home, office or classroom, where you can observe her in her natural surroundings. Prepare several opening questions, but pay attention to other details -- including your subject's physical appearance, habits or interactions with others -- that could move your story in another direction. Tape record and take notes to make sure you get all the details down.
Hook Readers' Attention
Grab interest right away with your lead or opening sentence that quickly sets a story's mood. For example, try opening with a short, startling line like, "Junior Josh Duckworth has a fetish," suggests University Interscholastic League journalism director Jeanne Acton. Then write the nut graph, which is a paragraph summarizing the most important details about the person. Follow with a direct quote that establishes the emotion you're trying to convey before moving into the main story.
Prepare to Improvise
Be ready to adapt if your original idea doesn't pan out. This is especially true if you're writing about a celebrity. One example is "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold," which first appeared in Esquire magazine's April 1966 issue. When Sinatra didn't talk to writer Gay Talese, he interviewed various friends and associates to paint a 15,000-word portrait of the singer's personal and professional stresses -- which resulted in a stronger story than the one he had originally planned.
Paint a Picture With Words
Use concrete details and short, punchy sentences to tell a subject's story. Talese starts his feature by describing Sinatra's treatment of his drinking companions at an exclusive bar -- including "two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something." To reinforce a main point of the story, Talese employs simple observations: "Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel -- only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice ..." Quotes should advance the story rather than restate details you have already established. End with a powerful quote or statement that ties in with your lead.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.