Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Hello. We’re going to talk about openings, endings, and the bit in between which involve descriptions in your features. Let’s begin with openings and endings. You’ve got to pay very close attention to your openings and your endings in a good feature article. These are sometimes the two areas of the article which matter most, since they are the first and last impressions in your readers’ minds. Choosing how you begin a feature, therefore, is extremely crucial. Do you begin with, for example, a classic opening paragraph that’s usually in the third-person past tense? Maybe that style allows you to write an accessible and clear introduction to the article. The chronology in that style is also very efficient and easily understandable. This happened.
Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds These were the events. This is when it happened. These were the people involved. You’re speaking about something in the past tense and in the third person. Or do you opt for what’s called a drop intro. This more colourful style uses details from the interior of the article to introduce the article. It entices the reader to want to read more. It should entreat readers and create appetite for reading further into the piece. For example, “when the police turned up at the flat that night, they never began to imagine the scene of terrible devastation which lay within. An innocent street, a small building, would within 24 hours become a metaphor for terrible murder out of the blue in the whole of Britain.”
Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds Something like that, something’s that dramatic. It hints at something, then it takes you into it. That’s a drop intro. You can also opt for starting another way, maybe using a quote, someone speaking. This uses a voice from someone in the article to force the reader to pay attention. It’s usually a unique quote and voice, saying something remarkable and intriguing. For example, “when my family and I moved to the outback in Australia, we thought we were moving to a wonderful nirvana. We never for a minute thought that it was going to turn out the way it did,” dot, dot, dot, close quotation marks. That’s a strong voice saying something you think, hang on. I want to read on here.
Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds It’s a writing device that also removes you, the author, from the story and inserts a character from the outset, whoever’s actually saying the quote. Now, three few examples follow, which hopefully will illustrate each style in more depth. None are 100% precise. And style interpretations, even between journalists, often vary quite wildly. But these are my interpretations of what each style is. The first is a classic intro in the third person, past tense, looking at the terrible fear of a young boxer who died in Scotland in the mid-1990s. I used the opening paragraph to summarise the awful events which led to his untimely death in the ring.
Skip to 3 minutes and 23 seconds I tried to be as clear and efficient with my words as possible, to try to grab the reader from the outset. The second example is a drop intro lead paragraph, dealing with the equally tragic case of a young woman who went missing on the Caribbean island of Jamaica whilst researching a travel guide. I both introduced the topic and jumped to the fact that the case remains unsolved and hangs over the island like a dark cloud. This is designed to intrigue and entice the reader to keep reading and discover what it is I’m referring to.
Skip to 3 minutes and 59 seconds The third example is a pure illustration of simply using a powerful and in this case very colourful quote to describe the case of a British soldier who vanished in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, a victim of the provisional IRA at that time. It could also qualify, I think, as a drop intro, since it throws the reader, you, straight into the subject matter at the start. But it’s also a voice that’s speaking. It’s designed to be memorable and powerful, simply in the hope that it will make you want to read on. Descriptions and features are very, very important. They make up the guts of your story. They are the cement, in fact, to bind all the other information elements together.
Skip to 4 minutes and 46 seconds If you do your descriptions well, your article will succeed. If you’re lazy and resort to cliches, then it will flop. Avoiding cliches is the most important lesson. You should try and see things with fresh eyes and use clear, interesting, informative language. You should also try spotting the telling details that are hidden sometimes as hidden truths in the research that you’re doing. You should note down the colours, the textures, the smell, the atmosphere, the weather, appearances, everything precisely and clearly and in fresh, vibrant terms. Look at the great writers, like my hero, Ernest Hemingway, for example, someone who could deliver a hefty punch in a few words.
Skip to 5 minutes and 36 seconds He was someone who was obsessed with detail and the precision of language and its economical use. So surprise yourself and your readers. Spot things which other journalists may have missed. Leave readers with a very clear portrait of what you have witnessed in a way that lingers in their collective memory. Read further into each of the preceding articles that I’ve provided links to for examples of trying to see things with clear vision. Ask yourself whether you agree with my choices. Endings, let’s talk about them for a minute, are at least, if not more, important than openings.
Skip to 6 minutes and 16 seconds They’re the last thing that your readers will read and their instant impressions will be shaped after closing the magazine or closing the page that they visited that will shape what they think about your article. Can you deliver an ending that matches or outdoes your opening? Is there a perfect, powerful quote that sums up what you want to say? Is there a phrase, a deceptively powerful comment or description, that hits the readers where you want to hit them? Now, don’t rush endings. Be careful how you judge how you end. Often during an assignment though I find myself when I’m interviewing someone suddenly thinking, they’ve said it.
Skip to 6 minutes and 59 seconds They’ve said the phrase that I will use at the end of the article, because they have summed it up in a way that I could never, ever have predicted. So try and think ahead. But don’t be too prescriptive. But keep your ear out for maybe that golden phrase, the very thing that you could never have written yourself which will just nail the point or the points that you’re trying to make, because the ending is your chance in a feature to close the circle that you started at the beginning of the article. It’s your chance to tell the readers something that they didn’t know.
Skip to 7 minutes and 30 seconds And it’s your one chance to pull together all the strands, all the loose ends, all the points, all the issues, all the underlying things that were in the article and leave the reader thinking about them, who knows, for the rest of the day, the rest of the year, maybe even the rest of their lives. Thanks.
Openings, descriptions and endings
Choosing the right opening for a feature is very important. You are faced with many choices and styles.
You can begin in a third-person past-tense for example which is a frequent style.
A ‘drop-intro’ can set the story up by revealing some details at the outset which hooks the reader into reading more.
You can also use a quote - a direct speech from someone mentioned in the article which uses a ‘voice’ to pull the reader in.
As you move into the article the use of descriptions is important. You must use vivid, precise and energetic terms. Avoid cliches. Try and see things clearly and impart descriptions which have clarity and power.
How you end an article is at least, if not more important, than how you began. You have to leave a lingering impression in the reader’s mind. You can end on a question; a conclusion which closes the circle of the article’s structure; or another voice - a quote - which neatly sums everything up. Choose your endings carefully and make them matter.
Please post your thoughts in the comments area.
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