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Feedback on first feature would be appreciated

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Matt Stephens, Jun 19, 2011.

  1. Matt Stephens

    Matt Stephens Well-Known Member

    Hey guys, just wrapped up my first 35-inch feature with the new gig and I was hoping to get some feedback from y'all on different things to work on in the future. It also didn't help that I really don't have a background in stock car racing, but I'm sure we all cross those bridges every once in a while.

    This ran as kind of a Father's Day feature today about a grandfather, son and grandson who all race together.

  2. maumann

    maumann Member

    Sure, I do cover auto racing for a living, so I'll offer some suggestions, Matt.

    The piece itself is fine -- good quotes, nice transitions, interesting subject matter. I think you feel fairly comfortable in that voice and it reads like someone who has a good grasp of what he wants to convey. I might have led into the divorce quote with just a little background, maybe. "...Mike, 39, who started out in 2004 by using racing as a distraction from the issues he was having with his wife."

    (Editor's note: It should probably have been "businesses" in the second graf.)

    You've got the storytelling part down. Where I think you could have knocked it out of the park was with a stronger, more engaging lede. To me, the key to writing a feature -- way more than just a regular news story -- is hooking the reader right off the bat. And that doesn't necessarily mean the first graf as much as "make me want to keep reading."

    Give me details. Give me descriptions. Make it so I can close my eyes and see exactly what you saw. You used "little" twice, but even so, little doesn't paint me a mind picture as much as "white clapboard house with a roof that needs fixing and a screened-in porch sitting at a cockeyed angle because of cracks in the foundation."

    Describe to me the highway. Is it an Interstate, a two-lane winding country road? You described the gravel driveway and the cattle guards, which was good. Were there cows or other animals? Was there a barn? Had it been painted recently? What did the house look like? A picket fence? What did you hear? What did you smell?

    Most importantly, was there an oak tree on the property, because I saw your phrase and thought, "Dang, you've got the family tree theme going" and that just would have been the perfect tie-in.

    I'll just make up something to give you an example:

    HUNTSVILLE -- About four miles east of town, just a few hundred yards from busy Highway 69, sits the Hargis farm. At first sight, it's not much to look that, just a beat-up old barn that could have used a new coat of paint more than a few summers ago, a white clapboard house with a roof that needs fixing and a screened-in porch that's fended off more than its fair share of mosquitoes. But turn left down the gravel road, across a couple of cattle guards and you'll spot a huge oak tree, a symbol of the bond between three generations of men who consider racing part of their family tree.

    Here's a piece I did four years ago on a small town in Georgia and its ties to NASCAR.


    I see great potential. Don't be afraid to experiment with your ledes and concentrate on finding that one key element that ties everything together. In this case, the tree would have been a perfect focal point.

    -- Mark
  3. maumann

    maumann Member

    Of course, that should be "not much to look AT ..."

    Mea culpa, Matt. Combination of too late and having just completed a 3,400-word story about NASCAR and social media.
  4. Matt Stephens

    Matt Stephens Well-Known Member

    Thanks, I greatly appreciate the feedback.
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