To write an article, a story, a blog or a feature, one does not have to follow the news-story format all the time. For a piece of writing that is to be presented in a non-news style, the general rule of thumb is to apply the basics of a soft news article. But before we go ahead and discuss writing soft news articles, let us remind you to take backups. So that if something goes wrong, you still have the blog posts you have written and can quickly restore them. But if you are not using a backup service, then check out this backup plugin guide to choosing the best WordPress backup plugin.
“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”
This observation made by noted English essayist, poet and author, the late Samuel Johnson, is particularly true of news writing, especially a soft news article. When little work and endeavour goes into writing a news story, the attention it holds among its readers may also be fleeting. But, while a soft news article may not lack in seriousness, it takes a roundabout approach to put forth the news – taking a wider look at the subject and making minute observations at the same time. That is why it is imperative that a soft story is so compelling that the reader is automatically drawn to it.
It’s not all about facts and figures…
While hard news presents the facts in a straightforward manner focusing on the typical rules of news writing – including the who, what, where, when, why and how of an incident or event – soft news gives a wider perspective on the facts and makes insightful observations. In today’s media, the differences between hard and soft news are often blurred and the same subject or event could be turned into a hard or soft news article. For example, the death of a prominent figure of a country is hard news; but an article describing how his service to society has put his small native village on the world map will become a soft story. One thing to understand is that a soft story could also be a feature.
The best way to get some insight into soft stories is to read human-interest stories. Soft stories are sometimes longer, have more information on the off-beat aspects of a piece of news and are infused with the elements of a good story.
Here are some typical examples of soft stories –
In a newsroom situation, soft stories are stories that are assigned to inside pages and can cover a wide variety of topics ranging from lifestyle and health to the environment and women’s issues. If you are writing a piece on tennis fashion at Roland Garros 2013 for your fashion blog, it will be considered a soft news article. Example.
Tips on writing a soft news story:–
1. Powerful lead –
A soft story usually does not start with a concise and straightforward lead. In fact, the gist that tells the reader what the article is about can come in the second or the third paragraph. The piece can begin with a quote, with an interesting observation or a heart-warming description of the scene or the subject. But for the reader to reach the third paragraph without losing interest, the story has to command attention in the first paragraph itself. Make the first few sentences so powerful that the reader wants to know more. It should hook the person in such a way that he is curious to find out what you are talking about. For eg: Adrift at sea for 15 days, Arnel Santos was half-dead when rescuers found him. He had survived on meagre rations of biscuits, raw fish and rainwater. He vowed never to let anyone suffer the way he had. Today, he is the largest manufacturer of Sea-Worthy, a survival kit for sailing enthusiasts….
2. Choosing a particular angle –
There can be many different angles to one story, particularly when it is a soft story. While the basic principles of who, what, why apply, the way you approach the story can differ compared to a hard news article. A recent story that I did for a newspaper was about a hearing-impaired teenager and bravery award winner, who was able to hear and subsequently talk for the first time in his life after 18 years of silence, because of the recognition and funding he got following the award. It is a simple story but with many angles – you could talk about how the award changed his life; or how the Government came to his aid and helped him hear again or start by describing in detail when and what were the first things he heard.
3. Research –
Do a good deal of background reading and research on the person, issue or event you are writing about and use it to build the story. This will add a lot of depth to the piece and make the reader feel that you know what you are talking about.
4. A good protagonist –
This is extremely important in a soft story and is mostly what keeps the reader hooked. There’s nothing like a good article with a lead character or characters, who makes the reader ‘feel’ for the subject. Even if it is a piece about a larger issue, introducing a person or persons who give you a first-hand feel of the topic, can make all the difference. Soft articles can have a dramatic element in them too. Hollywood’s latest offering Man of Steel has spawned thousands of blogs on everything from Superman Henry Cavill’s extreme diet to how the sequel is already on fast-track.
5. Use quotes to appeal to the heart and mind not just to state facts –
We have often noticed that quotes are added to a story to just bulk it up and lots may be said but without actually saying anything worthwhile. Use direct quotes that really take the story forward and choose those which tug at the heart and leave an impression on the mind.
6. End with a bang –
Unlike hard news stories that end abruptly after stating the facts, soft stories can end with a sentence that sums up what you are trying to convey. It should be written in such a way that makes the readers ponder and stays on with them.
In the paragraph on writing a strong lead, we gave you the example of Arnel Santos. To make his story end with a bang, it is imperative to give the story a finality and to ensure that your reader feels that there is a conclusion to the piece you wrote. For example, the end to his story could read…. Sea-Worthy has saved the lives of close to 2000 sailing enthusiasts, sailors and people stranded at sea. Arnel has won several awards for his survival kit and has used a large portion of his earnings to start a children’s foundation for marine conservation. His love for the sea is stronger than ever!