JSS: January 2007 Archives

Feature Writing STUDENT SYLLABUS

Spring 2007, Mondays & Wednesdays, 9:30 to 10:50
Instructor Jessica Snyder Sachs

OVERVIEW:
Feature Writing will introduce you to the special skills necessary in writing in-depth and
reflective stories, including profiles, trend stories, service articles, narratives, first-person
essays, and other longer-than-your-average-news-flash pieces. Students learn how to

Recognize good feature ideas
Interview to develop features
Write feature leads
Organize feature stories
Engage readers with artful language, narrative, and tone (3)
Craft query letters
Navigate the feature production path, from query letter or story meeting to final publication

The overall goal of this class is to help you expand and hone your writing skills, with an
emphasis on engaging prose that captures your reader’s imagination and pulls his or her
through an in-depth article that entertains as it informs.

On the business side, you will gain a working knowledge of the editorial process of magazine
publishing, from the perspective of both the freelance writer and staff editor. Traditionally,
feature writing has been thought of as “writing for magazines.” But increasingly, features have
a prominent place in newspapers and as web content. We will include these markets in our
explorations.

The coursework will emphasize the differences between news and feature writing and explore
the different types of articles published in magazines. The class will learn to discern a
magazine’s editorial style and readership and will analyze examples of both good and bad
magazine journalism.

Most importantly, this class is an opportunity for you all to stretch as writers. As your
instructor, I will be your devoted editor, and as a class, we will critique (not criticize) each
other’s work. There will be occasional in-class writing assignments. But you will write the bulk
of your material outside of class.

Please remember that writing, like any craft, can only improve through constructive criticism
and a redoubling of effort. Bring a sense of humor about yourself and the process to class, as
well as compassion for your fellow writers who are likewise struggling to master the tricky art of
clear and enjoyable prose.

This class should be a place where all of you feel nurtured as well as challenged. It is, in
essence, a workshop, where everyone should be able to give and take suggestions for
improvement in a supportive context.

Also remember that you are just starting on what may be a life-long path of improvement as a
writer. Along the way, you will work with scores of editors, and every good one will help you
improve your writing. This class is just the first step.

Required Reading:
1. William Blundell’s The Art & Craft of Feature Writing (still the best there is).

2. William Zinsser’s On Writing Well

3. A good thesaurus AND style manual. (No, the grammar and spell checker on your word
program is NOT enough.) I recommend for all writers: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (a
cheap, little book & a good read)

If grammar is a challenge for you, check out “The Guide to Grammar & Writing” at
http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm . I especially recommend spending some time (okay, a lot of time) with the site’s interactive sentence diagramming lessons (last topic under pull-down menu titled “word and sentence level”).

3. Personal reading: Read magazines. Read newspaper features. Read webzines. Out loud,
under your breath, every day. Ask yourself, “Do I like it?” If so, why does it work? If not, why
doesn’t it work? You can’t learn to write without appreciating the good stuff, and learning what
to avoid from the drek. Be sure to read publications in which you’d love to see your own work
appear.

Assignments:
I need you to submit each out-of-class assignment both electronically
and in hardcopy. Please email me the file before class on the
assignment’s due date.

The hardcopy is due at the BEGINNING of class, on its due date. The hard copy needs to be in
manuscript form: typed and double-spaced; page number, author name and story slug on each
page; and stapled in the upper left corner.

In addition to several writing exercises, over the course of the semester, you will produce two
feature articles (which will go through several drafts) and one or two query letters (appropriately
targeted to an actual publication). I strongly encourage you to pursue publication of your pieces,
if “only” in the campus newspaper.

You will each give a brief presentation to the class on a magazine, webzine, or other feature
outlet of your choice. In doing so, you will investigate and report on the magazine’s tone
(straight, humorous, conversational, jargony, literary, servicey, etc.) target readership (college
students, young mothers, fitness nuts, men who love cars and gadgets, etc.), and feature
needs.

This being a workshop-style class, your attendance and punctuality affects everyone. Please
don’t be late. Please come prepared with talking points and ample constructive feedback on
discussion and critique days.

Grading:
There will be no exams. You will be graded primarily on your writing assignments. In your two
features, you need to tackle two different styles of feature writing—“behind the news,” profile
(of person, place, or thing), trend, or service.

Your class participation and peer feedback is an important part of your grade, as is punctuality
and attendance.

Importantly, all of your written work must be factually and grammatically accurate, and the final
drafts of your full features must be turned in with an annotated fact-checking copy (to be
explained further in class).

If you feel a grade or critique is unfair or mistaken, please don’t hesitate to discuss it with me.
I won’t take offense.

Approximate grading weights:
10% Class participation and peer feedback
15% Writing exercises
15% 1st feature
15% 1st feature revision
20% 2nd feature
15% 2nd feature revision
5% Query letter
5% Market presentation

Important dates:

1st feature draft due: Mon. Feb. 12th
1st feature polished: Wed. Feb. 14th
1st feature revision: Mon. Feb. 26th

Query letter for 2nd feature: Due at student conference

Student Conferences: March 5th and 7th

Spring Break/no classes: March 12 & 14
Last day to withdraw with a “W” grade: March 20th

2nd feature draft: Mon. April 16th
2nd feature polished: Wed. April 18th
2nd feature revision: Mon. April 30th

Vital note on deadlines: They matter in journalism… big time. Unexcused, late articles will lose
a half grade for each day overdue. If you must miss a class on the day an assignment is due,
make sure your assignment is in my email inbox before the start of that day’s class. If serious
illness or a personal crisis prevents you from missing a deadline, contact me in a timely
manner, preferably before you miss your deadline. Please don’t abuse my faith in you.

Communicating with me: If something’s confusing you or bothering you, please talk with me
sooner rather than later. My goal is to help you become a better writer, wherever you are in the
process. Office hours: After class and, by prior arrangement, before class.

A few quotes to ponder (or not):

“You must first learn to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards modify them according to your
intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method.” Mai-maisze
Luch’ai, in The Way of Chinese Painting (1679)

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those move easiest who have learned to
dance." English essayist Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

"Writing is nature's way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is." Syndicated cartoonist
Richard Guindon (1989).

Semester Schedule: Note—this syllabus is a general travel plan. We will take things slowly and
sometimes push topics over to subsequent classes

Week 1. Jan 22 & 24
TOPICS: Course overview, Introductions, What Is Feature Writing?, The Feature Lead
Writing Exercise (lead-writing)

Week 2. Jan 29 & 31
TOPICS: Finding Workable Ideas (Angles vs. Topics), Types of Feature Stories, Structure of the
Feature Story
ASSIGN: START WRITING FIRST FEATURE
READING: Blundell's Intro, Ch 1, Ch 5

Week 3. Feb 5 & 7
prof's jury duty on 7th–reporting/writing exercise instead of lecture
TOPICS: Interviewing, peer-review instructions
Writing Exercise (interviewing for insight)

Week 4. Feb 12 & 14
DUE AT START OF MONDAY CLASS: Feature #1 Draft
DUE AT START OF WEDNESDAY CLASS: Feature #1 Polished, with peer-annotated draft attached

TOPICS: Peer-review, Getting Great Quotes, Interviewing/Writing exercise (if not previously completed)

Week 5. Feb 19 (Pres. Day/no class) & 21
FEATURES RETURNED AND DISCUSSED
TOPIC: Revising, Passive vs. Active Voice, Co-ordinating and Sub-ordinating Ideas

Week 6. Feb 26 & 28
DUE AT START OF MONDAY CLASS: REVISION of Feature #1
TOPICS: Writing a Good Ending, Organization/Feature Structures
SIGN UP FOR STUDENT CONFERENCES NEXT WEEK,

Week 7. March 5 & 7 (STUDENT CONFERENCES: 9-11 am, as per sign-up sheet)
ASSIGNMENTS: MAKE REAL PROGRESS ON SECOND FEATURE

March 12 & 14 (SPRING BREAK)

Week 8. March 19 & 21
TOPICS: Narrative Writing, Reliable Sources and Fact-checking
WRITING EXERCISE (Scenes)

Week 9. March 26 & 28
TOPICS: Word Craft I: Beyond Cliché; publishing your feature (sign up for magazine presentations)
WRITING EXERCISE (word craft)

Week 10. April 2 & 4
TOPICS: Word Craft II: Voice; The Query Letter
WRITING EXERCISE (query letters)

Week 11. April 9 & 11
TOPICS: Trouble-shooting as needed, market presentations

Week 12. April 16 & 18
DUE AT BEGINNING OF MONDAY CLASS: 2nd Feature draft
DUE AT BEGINNING OF WEDNESDAY CLASS: 2nd Feature polished, with peer-annotated draft

attached
TOPICS: Trouble-shooting, Peer-review; market presentations

Week 13. April 23 & 25
2nd FEATURES RETURNED AND DISCUSSED
Topics: Trouble-shooting as needed, Film “Shattered Glass, ” The business side of feature

writing (Staff and Freelance), the manuscript path

Week 14. April 30 and May 2nd
DUE AT BEGINNING OF MONDAY CLASS: 2nd Feature Revision, with fact-checking copy
TOPICS: market presentations

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by JSS in January 2007.

JSS: November 2005 is the previous archive.

JSS: January 2008 is the next archive.

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