The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Piecing Together the First Draft Puzzle

By Lori Russell
Lori RussellWriting a feature article can feel like tackling a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Where do you begin? What goes where?
Every puzzle comes with a photograph of the final goal on the front of the box. While the final version of your article has yet to be revealed, you already know where you are headed.
You have already limited your topic in your query letter. You have focused your research and your interviews. You have written your first paragraph (lede) and an outline based on your query to your editor. In that outline, you also have begun to tackle the organization of your article and the transitions between paragraphs. Now, it is time to tell the story as clearly and simply as you can.
When I tackle a puzzle, I begin by putting like pieces together-those with the same pattern or color in one pile, the edge pieces in another. The same can be done when writing a first draft.
Paragraphs, made up of sentences with related information, are the building blocks of writing. When connected, they create your feature story.
Some writers write paragraphs by working through their outlines in order, others proceed more randomly. Do what fits your style and helps you dive into the story the quickest.
I prefer to begin with whichever paragraph is easiest for me to write. Depending upon the topic that may be the background information, a particular quote or even a rough ending to the article.
Wherever you begin in your outline, select a major point and express it in a sentence or two. Add any evidence or details that you picked up in your research or interviews. If you have a transition sentence, put it at the end of the paragraph. If you don’t, you can add one in a later draft. If you don’t use the quote or anecdote that you had planned, circle it on your outline. You may use it elsewhere in the piece-or not at all.
When you have expressed a major point from your outline in one or two paragraphs, move to the next.
Do not worry about style at this point. Don’t rush to the thesaurus to look up a word. Both of these distractions will break what writers reverently refer to as flow-that creative right-brained space where words and connections come nearly without effort. 
Keep it lean. Don’t assume you can carve 3,000 words down to 500 in the next draft. While you may be able to, it will cost you time. Feature articles take plenty of time to write as it is.
Choice is one of the most important tools of a writer. You choose what goes into your article and what does not. If you find your draft ballooning in size, review your query letter and your focused outline. Stick to what you promised to write and your puzzle will take shape.  
This month’s assignment: After reviewing your query letter, a copy of your publication, your notes and your outline, write a first draft of your feature article. 

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite Magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

1 Response to “The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Piecing Together the First Draft Puzzle”

  1. 1 Sunday Wash-Up, 11th October « Shack's Comings and Goings Trackback on October 10, 2009 at 10:02 pm
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