I have been to a lot of feature writing sessions during the last three years. None of them have compared to ‘How to Avoid the Mickey Mouse Story Feature Story’ led by Bobby Hayes from High Point University.
He started off the session by giving us three ‘gifts.’ They were truly the worst gifts ever — horribly written feature stories. Each time the whole room moaned as we had to read another story that had no tension, no emotion, no real reason for it to have been written in the first place. We were not allowed to call them boring, we had to give specific reasons for why we lost interest. Well we could have taken the whole 50 minutes listing off reasons for just one of those stories.
Then the moment came. He handed us his fourth gift and the whole room got silent. It was a silence that can only be created by a room of people who love writing as they read a beautifully written story. A story of a girl who with down syndrome who is allowed to join the cheerleading squad at her high school. But mainly its a story about a girl who wants to fit in with her peers, who wants to cheer like her big sister did and wants her dad to be in the stands watching her. It may not be a story that off the bat it seems like everyone can relate to. But there is so much humanity in this story, so many universal emotions that everyone believes, that it creates a feeling anyone can relate to.
After that he gave us a list of things that need to be in every feature story:
- Hammer the scenes
- Find scenes that matter
- Put your main character in motion
- Get physical with the reader
- Discover and develop with tension and conflict
- What does the main character mean, not who is this person?
- Develop the main character as completely as possible
- tease them, you little devil
- do more interviews than you think is necessary
- but don’t clutter your story with too many people
- Get a grip on quotes
- Be creative
- Get historical