Feature Writing – A Review by Dr. Lalita Ramakrishna

 Name of Book: Feature Writing  by Meera Raghavendra Rao

Publ. Prentice Hall India, New Delhi , 2009

 This is a book by a seasoned journalist  for other aspiring journalists. As the Foreword points out ‘stories that  survive  are stories that are better told’.  This book  is based on personal experience in the field. The coverage is exhaustive  with chapters on : feature writing, humour, travel, news, interviews and profiles,  with the final chapter on Rural  writing. The author defines journalism as literature produced at speed. 

Meera has over two decades experience as a journalist and  has been teaching feature writing   and public speaking , deportment and other  much needed soft skills.  Her valuable experience in communicating to different age groups is gathered in this handy book.  She is one of the first among Indians to explain the nuts and bolts  of  journalistic writing.

          Breaking up the matter into separate  chapters makes it easy for  a reader to locate his special  area which he would like to improve. She illustrates her chapters with examples on humor, human interest, culled from her own  articles.

          Articles on events such as a Puja or festival  involves information gathering. Articles for papers is story telling based on facts. So the process involves incisive relation of events, and the mirroring of today’s speech patterns. Journalists participate in real events. They have to write concisely and clearly. Make every word count and use action verbs, says the author. The art of communication has been perfected by modern media and it is well worth inspecting their ideas when we want to revive interest in spiritual topics in a cross section of readers.

       News reporting should  have an inverted pyramid structure. You should  highlight the most important aspect  in your first sentence called the lead and describe it. Feature writing is meant to entertain but it is also based on facts. Meera makes a fine distinction between news reports that are totally factual, and news features that include a human interest angle.

     Features on health or family tensions relate to readers’ concerns. Characters in a ‘feature’ must come to life so as to catch the attention. Readers want to read about people like themselves, who reflect their problems. The ending should have a surprise, or humor, or a memorable quotation.

     The chapter on “Brights”  which are sunny features that enliven a news page, gives exercises for practicing this type of writing. Humor according to the author is generally absent in Indian newspapers. She gives valuable tips on how to write humor and satire.

Travel features  are  a specialized form and Meera  delineates the special qualities that a writer must practice  to bring the scenario alive. The writer must observe details and use all his five senses to describe the sounds, sights, feel, smells  and tastes of the place and the people. Meera illustrates her points with her own Travel features  like “Inside Dosa king in Vancouver”. Articles about various tirthas and temples  can become vivid and bring a flavour of the place to readers  when writers use the techniques suggested in this book.  

Interviews and Profiles are popular  in today’s journals. Meera shows how you can get mileage  by directing the conversation subtly  so as to get the facts. In doing a Profile, which is a more complete description,  a writer  collects information  from other sources  like articles or books as well as interviews. An Interview with  eminent scientist illustrates  this type of writing. A valuable piece of advice is to prepare your questions very well but appear to put them across casually  while conducting an Interview. Encourage the person to talk freely, record the matter mentally and also observe his body language .

     Of special interest is Meera’s analysis of ‘Online writing’. Here the style should be tight simple and factual says the author.  For  Rural journalism one needs  field experience, know the local language, and have contact with the rural community. Topics like “Impact of Television  on children” or “ Holidays for rural schools”  are useful for readers. Meera is happy that the print media in our country is still robust and commands a wide readership whereas in the West, television has replaced print readership.

      Heartening advice from this veteran journalist – “rejection is inevitable” and “don’t be over sensitive”. Important tips are “ avoid adjectives, use action verbs, and use anecdotes.”  “Use active rather than passive voice, and  include  direct  conversations” says Meera’s  voice of experience.

         This is an excellent book that every writer should  read and keep as a reference. Upcoming writers should  try out the advice offered by a journalist with over two decades experience.                                        

Dr.Lalita Ramakrihna, Research Director
Tattvaloka, Chennai

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