Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Feature writing 101

Posted on | July 29, 2008 | No Comments

One of the finest articles I’ve read in some time hit a week ago in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. David Carr is a culture critic for The Times and his cover story was titled “Me and My Girls.”

Where does a junkie’s time go? Mostly in 15-minute increments, like a bug-eyed Tarzan, swinging from hit to hit. For months on end in 1988, I sat inside a house in north Minneapolis, doing coke and listening to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and finding my own pathetic resonance in the lyrics. “Any place is better,” she sang. “Starting from zero, got nothing to lose.”

The story is about Carr’s coke addiction, recovery and resurrection… and it’s about how to write. It’s riveting and compelling and it’s written in the first person because it has to be.
Memo to Graydon Carter, National Geographic and virtually every other magazine in existence today save for The Economist: Unless you’re David Carr and have a compelling personal story you’re turning into a memoir, stop inserting yourself in feature stories.

As a matter of fact I want to wring your little pencil necks because
The Writer
The Subject

Most magazine writing today is pretentious and dull. Making yourself part of the story only puts a big ol’ sign on your forehead: “Hack.” It shows you can’t build a good enough relationship with your subjects and sources to understand them and reveal them thoughtfully for your audience. You have to focus on yourself because that’s all you understand. Your power and fame should lie in the fact that you’re a writer, and a writer tells stories about others. If you can’t grasp that, pack it in, boys and girls. Or stick to blogging.
I don’t hold out much hope that in the Culture of Me feature writing will be revolutionized, but a man can dream.
Meanwhile, check out Carr’s story.

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No Responses to “Feature writing 101”

  1. Screaming Lady
    July 30th, 2008 @ 8:51 am

    Carr’s writing is brilliant. Nothing is wasted (except major chunks of his life, but not a talent that defied the more common outcome for junkies.) He treats his subject (himself) with the critical eye of a discerning journalist and comes away unmoved. He reveals the facts of an addict’s existence — raw, decrepit, unforgivable — and his recovery — remarkable only in that he was saved by luck and God-given talent. What is more remarkable is that not once does he invite us to see him as a hero, false or pitiable. That’s not his job. His job is to expose what most Times readers will never know for themselves. And that’s why we read.

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