Lori Kurtzman is a former Columbus Dispatch reporter who is now working as a brand journalism editor at The Ohio State University.
What were your biggest initial struggles/challenges with writing features?
Realizing you can’t write your way out of bad reporting. Good feature writing begins with thorough, painstaking reporting, which is how I learned that nouns paint a better picture than adjectives.
How have you worked through them and what advice do you offer students to do the same?
Learning the hard way — sitting down to write a story and realizing you don’t have what you need. And so picking up the phone again, or getting in the car again, and finding the details you missed. Another lesson I learned is to tell the story that’s there, rather than the story you wanted to tell.
Here’s an example where I went to Bill Combs’ home intending to write a story about World War II. I came out with something quite different.
What are some examples of where features went well or went badly, and what did you learn?
This obituary went over surprisingly well. It was about a man I only knew as Paul F. I spent a long time digging through his Yelp reviews and interviewing two Yelpers and his brother to write this.
Again, this is all about the reporting. Paul essentially tells his own story.
Here is a story that fails because there are two subjects, and I only reached one of their families. I should have tried harder to get the other family and flesh out the other person better. Again, feature writing is all about reporting.
What is one story experience where your growth in the genre showed?
This story began when I was out on a different story and noticed a picture of a girl posted to a bulletin board. I was curious, so I asked who Danielle was.
What unfolded was an obituary like I had never written. This involved quite a bit of reporting for a fairly short story and allowed me to introduce emotion without hitting anyone over the head that THIS IS SAD.
Earlier in my career, I might have been tempted to push the sad parts of this story, but as I developed as a reporter and writer, I learned that feature stories told simply — ones that allow the reader to live in them and experience them — are better than those that try too hard.