This article by prolific New Zealand Web business writer, Sean D’Souza, is very useful as a guide for feature writing:
You might like cake a lot.
Yet, even the most adventurous of us, would hesitate to eat an entire cake.
This is because the entire cake becomes too much to eat.
And even if we did eat that mountain of sugar and frosting, we’d feel sick.
Well, writing can be like eating too much cake.
STUMBLING PAST THE FIRST 50 WORDS
Most of us are utterly convinced that starting up a sales letter or an article can be extremely difficult. The first 50 words are pure hell.
But you see, the difficulty doesn’t lie in the opening. Or the writing of the opening.
It lies in the getting the clarity of your thought down to a “slice.”
And this clarity of thought must come way before you put pen to paper (or before you clatter away on your keyboard).
So what I’m suggesting is don’t sit down to start writing the article at all.
Instead you “slice” up the writing process so that, first, you’re simply sitting down to clarify what you’re thinking.
So how do we clarify our thoughts?
STEP 1: You first write down in about 4-5 lines what you think is the general theme of the article you’re writing. This is your mini-explanation.
STEP 2: Choose three or four words that sum up the article.
STEP 3: Choose one word that is most relevant among those ‘four words’
STEP 4: Find an every day object or situation that relates to the ‘four words’
Let me show you an example.
First, my 4-5 lines.
“The article I’m about to write is about how you can alienate the audience by using certain examples.
“For instance, examples like baseball.
“Or cricket. Or use mother-in-law jokes. Or political issues. These examples are inappropriate for several reasons that I will list in my article.”
So this is an article about making the right – or wrong choices – about examples that help convey ideas to readers. But to get closer to the idea, now I go back to my short description and choose Four Words (or less; less is better).
Not a bad list. But now I do the third step, and reduce that list of four words to just one:
Now I take my one word and do the final step, looking for everyday objects or situations that involve “alienation”.
“Example 1: Excommunication from a group.”
“Example 2: Punished in the classroom.”
“Example 3: Not invited to a party.”
Without much trouble, you can see I’m getting situations or examples where I can focus on a slice, instead of the entire cake.
I’ve got everyday situations I can use to build a good opening. And the article is starting to get some momentum.
But why not chose more than one word from our list to build from?
Because choosing too many words would be restrictive.
It would kill our momentum.
For instance, instead of just one word like ‘alienate’, what if we chose two words such as
‘alienate audiences?” Immediately, our brain starts down a path that may be too restrictive.
The bigger pair of terms now brings up thoughts and examples such as:
Example 1: Talking down to an audience.
Example 2: Talking about yourself.
Example 3: Don’t make eye contact.
The situations are more limited.
Whereas a single word like ‘alienate’ brings up a variety of possibilities.
One-word clarity leads to a whole bunch of concepts and ideas
These concepts and ideas you come up with then form the basis of your opening.
They create drama, because you can see the story unfolding, when you describe examples like ‘not being invited to a party, or ‘being punished in a classroom.’
And it’s the slicing that has led to the example – the example that’s then expanded to create a powerful opening.
And all of this occurs, remember, before you’ve actually written a single word.
Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Obviously, you can. As long as you take it in tiny slices.”
Image: Sean D’Souza, Psychotactics.