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Human-interest story writing: Learning from newspapers

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This is the second part of the Career in Journalism series by Preeti.

So it’s the weekend and you are looking forward to an unhurried breakfast with various newspapers spread out across the table as you take in some mental refreshment while sipping coffee. It’s the Sunday newspaper after a rather hectic week of spot-fixing, acid attacks and crime. It is your day away from travels in the bustling local trains; you just want to put your feet up and have a relaxed newspaper experience. That’s where the Sunday reads and Page 3 reading comes into scene. They are about writing human-interest stories and feeding human curiosity.

Ideation phase of Story writing

Whether you are writing stories on a blog, an online journal, an article for a local newsletter or magazine, you would need a human-interest angle to provide the gravitas that the story needs to create the necessary impact.

For instance, if you are writing about an NGO making a difference in the lives of slum dwellers, it is one thing to give before and after statistics and it is another and more impactful aspect altogether to publish a smiling picture of a little child who has benefited from the NGO’s efforts.

Human-interest story writing uses real people and real life incidents as examples to set forth a point. The ultimate idea is to appeal to the finer emotions of the reading audience – to inspire and to garner sympathy and support for a cause.

A little background

The Page 3 and Sunday reads in newspapers are generally handled by the Features Editor. From the conceptualisation of ideas to the final execution the Features Head of the newspaper has one tough task in hand. Especially the Sunday reads need to be planned more than a week earlier so that the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of the article is right.

The Features Head has to scan through various ideas, pick few which are ideal reads and have to see that the ideas are implemented well.

What you can learn from newspapers

Half the battle is won when the right topic is chosen. Often, the choice of the topic is got to do with the time of the year; for instance, lovers uniting against odds maybe the theme before Valentine’s Day.

There was an article I came across on Friendships’ day a few years back; a nice afternoon read about two pen-friends – one a Maharashtrian and the other a German native, residing in different parts of the world who met in 9 countries and 15 cities across the world just to keep their friendship of 10 years alive.

When I saw the story, I noticed that:
One – The theme suited the nature of the tabloid as well as the situation i.e. Friendship Day.
Second – There were a stream of photographs attached to the article between the years of their friendship and wherever they met- the main attraction to a Sunday read.

The story writing flow is lucid, quotes from both the friends and their camaraderie was highlighted.

How to write a good human-interest story

  • Pick a topic which you like so that you give your best shot. A topic that appeals to you.
  • Focus on getting the emotion right. Think – what is that you want your readers to feel at the end of the post?
  • Highlight positivity.
  • Describe people, places, attire and time so that people can picture the story in their minds
  • End it on a positive note

Why Page 3 articles in newspapers fascinate us

These are stories of people we don’t have access to and is from a world the normal reading audience does not belong to. A ‘Page 3’ article is published almost 3-4 times a week (depends upon the Editor’s call and availability of pages). A regular ‘Page 3’/ Feature article might contain the following topics:

  • Cinema, Television, Theatre and Fashion – especially lives of those involved in these glamorous professions.
  • What are the popular travel destinations currently? Cheap tickets available? Travel articles would involve a lot of photographs. Insert 4-5 pictures highlighting the recommended travel destination. Add few quotes from people who have visited the place and give your opinion too with handy tips!
  • Write ups on relationships and enhancement of one’s personality is a huge rage in a feature article.

I read an article on lifestyle in a Daily Tabloid on how celebrities handle success and failure. It turned out to be a fairly good read because of the quotes given by celebs themselves.

Stories of celebrity successes inspire -  whether is Hrithik Roshan overcoming his stammering or Sonam Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha losing 30 kilos to scorch the big screen.

Other topics feature food: the hot new food outlets in the city, unconventional career trends and entertainment news.

Structuring the story

Framework:

Give utmost importance to the structure of your article. If your article is not well-presented, it will not succeed in hooking the readers.

The headline needs to be catchy and should give an idea of what the article contains. The introduction (or lead as we say) needs to be relevant, concise and should provide a base on which the body of the article will continue from.

The body text is the most important; it should have the essential information, quotes, story, incident and opinions in a logical manner.

At the end comes the conclusion which should efficiently summarise what you have presented in the text above. You could add a quote too! Ensure there is a link between all the elements of the article. Without a proper framework, even a great article loses its charm!

Sifting of data:

You have a lot of data on the subject you are writing on, but all this data is meaningless unless you sort it out and list them in a presentable manner.

Craft and write the story well

  1. Jargon should be used but only when relevant to the article. If not, it will be a complete let down!
  2. Make the article as clear and to-the-point as possible. Avoid extra explanations, when not necessary; it just stretches the article!
  3. The article should be a part of you, a reflection of your thoughts. Romance with the subject and half the battle is won!
  4. Provide relevant examples to clear the picture
  5. An element of humour needs to be added, but first decide whether it would be a suitable quotient to the article.
  6. Check and if required, re-check on the authenticity of the data.
  7. Write the text in a manner that engages the reader.
  8. The way you write ‘sells’ the article. Use a subtle tone as much as possible.

Another well-construed story I read was that of the RamLila going online. Their site receives lakhs of visitors across countries. It showcases a key mythological aspect of Indian culture. Although it was not a lengthy read, the article was perfect in terms of their audience for the paper, their captions, information and the real-life captured pictures.

Remember, your article is the door which opens the minds of the readers to something new; it can change their way of looking at a particular concept or person! So, it is in your hands purely to get your concept through to the audience.


Preeti is a post graduate degree holder in commerce with a Diploma in Business Management. She was employed with Times of India for a little over 3 years years. She’s written feature articles extensively for Pune Mirror. She has also written lifestyle articles for Magic Tours of India and Sakaal Times – a supplement of SHE.

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Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

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