A feature lead is a big deal. But before we get into how to write them, let us remind you to take backups of your website. 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. It will help you choose the best WordPress backup plugin. That said, let’s find out all about feature lead.
All about the feature lead
Imagine catching up with a friend over a cuppa and having them describe a recent vacation. If they were to rattle, “The temperatures in Turkey ranged between 22 and 28 degrees, with occasional afternoon showers,” would you spend more time wanting to know details of that getaway? Instead, if your friend pulls out a souvenir for you from a local bazaar there and describes the scene. Then you are fascinated almost immediately and want to hear more. So too, with a feature lead!
A feature lead is often described as a conversation that anyone would like to be a part of. Feature writing needs to have strategic communication because it introduces your story (just like a news lead), it is informative and informal (without being frivolous), and sets the tone for what will follow. For it to grab your reader’s attention ever so gently, it must be interesting, creative and illustrative too. Instead of drawing you in with hard news, facts and figures, it softly lures you with anecdotes, quotes, colorful descriptions and narratives which are factual, yet presented in a non-formal manner.
Woo your reader in the first para
A feature lead is quite different from a lead in a news story or even an opinion piece on a blog. In a news story, you are informing your reader about events, situations, incidents etc, without beating around the bush. In a feature piece, you do the same, but you invite your reader, sit him or her down and explain in some detail the topic you’ve chosen. You have to woo the reader in the first para itself. I am a feature writer – when writing a news story, I seldom sweat over the lead. Instead, most of my time and energy is spent getting my story right. However, with a feature lead, I have to spend a fair amount of time to ensure that the first para hooks my readers.
Unlike news story leads that are shorter and get straight to the point, feature articles most often begin with a delayed or soft lead. A feature lead is allowed the freedom to linger, wander and eventually connect to your main story. The actual lead as in a news story that explains the news value of the write up comes after the main ‘feature lead’ and is called a nut graf. This second lead gives context to your story and makes it easy to connect your feature lead to your story.
NEWS LEAD: Take a look at this news story where the lead tells you immediately what the story is about.
FEATURE LEAD: Compare this to the narrative lead in this film review here. It’s after two paragraphs of the lead that the article transitions to its body.
Both articles deal with an aspect of news – you are giving information to your reader,you’re your approach is different. Feature leads are best used for features/feature story, which is written to entertain and should pull readers into the story. It gives a human element to a piece of news while adding depth and perspective.
Spend time on a feature lead
Don’t write right away: It is because you want the best start to your story, that you must give it time. Take time to flip through your research and interview notes. Relive your experiences while working on your story. While researching on the story did you stumble upon other stories? Do you remember the noise or smell of streets you walked through, the voice of the interviewee who spoke to you? The details that catch your attention are often the ones that make for absorbing leads. In this story for the New Yorker, the writer uses an anecdotal lead to begin his story on surveillance today. He turns back in time to look at examples from history to make it an interesting start.
Write many leads
Put down the various options you have to write your feature lead. Write about two or three sentences of each and decide which reads well and fits your story. You are allowed to add drama, transport your reader to a time and place where your story begins.
While writing a feature lead, if I find myself stuck with the first few sentences I write one or two leads and see which flows into my story well. In a recent article I wrote about a walk with an ant- expert, I wrote down a few leads – one about the kinds of ants we found on our walks, one with my experiences with ants – that of being mostly bitten; one about the amazing feats of ants and so on. In the end, I chose to begin by narrating the circumstances in which the walk began, so readers could experience it.
Eg: “Passers-by stared at Sunny as they would at crazy entomologists crouched on a public park pathway scrutinizing itty-bitty insects that no one else cares to notice. His unlikely public stance was in response to taking me on an insect trail in a city park. He’d promised to show me creatures he’d been fascinated with for years, ones that I see every day, but knew precious little about except that they bite — Ants.
There are various kinds of leads you can pick for an article (link to Sahana Charan’s article on types of leads).
Tell it like it is
An easy way to begin a feature lead is to visualize that you are telling your reader a story. You will never start a story with ‘’One hundred sailors were cast ashore’’. You will begin with something like, ‘’A merchant ship was sailing in the calm waters of the Indian Ocean, and suddenly, a storm hit.’’
In this article, the writer chooses one of the most common, traditional leads for feature stories – the descriptive lead to describe his return to his country Libya. Crafting his sentences beautifully, he allows us to travel with him and experience what he would have.
What not to do
It’s best to avoid certain kinds of leads when writing feature pieces. There is no rule of thumb as such, but it is easier for your readers to understand what the article /blog is all about. So, avoid….
Quote leads: Quote leads work well for reports that need to keep to the point. Unless the quote is exceptionally special, it isn’t the most original or exciting way to start your story
Question leads: What must a feature lead start with? Certainly not questions. ‘Did you know’ and rhetorical questions make for bad sentences and are hardly interesting.
Summary leads: Leads that sum up important what-when-where kind of details works best for report stories rather than soft features.
There are lead styles that work almost always even though are used so frequently.
Among them are:
Descriptive leads: They describe a place, person or an event with great care so the reader can envision where the story takes place or what would have happened
Narrative leads: Narrative leads are similar to descriptive leads but use strong action verbs and sometimes even dialogues are employed to make narration effective or to recreate situations powerfully.
Anecdotal leads: Everyone loves a good story. Anecdotal leads where interesting stories, metaphors or events make for a riveting read.
Depending on your write up, your lead can take even as much time as rest of your article, but in the end, this is worth it. Make sure it is relevant to rest of your story. All artistic and imaginary meandering must rejoin the reader to the focus of the story. The most wonderfully written lead can be pointless if doesn’t relate to your story. It’s good to remember that no matter where you begin your piece, what’s equally important is what follows. The lead should facilitate the transition or the nut graph (a simple declarative sentence or paragraph in the piece which talks about what the writer intends to do in the paras that follow). Always make sure it doesn’t end too abruptly and has good public relations.
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