This week I spent time reading Pulitzer Prize winning feature stories to get an idea of what makes great writing so great. I was specifically drawn to Andrea Elliot’s “A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds” (2007), because of its applicability to my life. Admittedly, I have always wondered about the lives of Muslims in America. I’ve wondered about their practices, laws and relationships. I want to understand the culture of Islam.
Elliot not only calmed my curiousities, but sparked new ones.
I cross-referenced her storytelling techniques with a book I am currently reading by Bruce Garrison. Garrison outlines Schoenfeld and Diegmueller’s eight essential elements of feature stories (1982) as:
- Appeal to people
- An angle
- Uniqueness and universality
- Energy increment
Every single one of these elements was present in Elliot’s feature. Her story focused on the life of an imam, Sheik Reda Shata, with an angle that was unique and universal. Not only that, but she covered the rest of the essential elements by providing background stories, personal anecdotes and facts about the Muslim faith to frame Shata’s story and bring his hardships to life.
While I was reading the list of essential feature elements, I was not sure how practical “energy increment” would be. How could a story stir my readers the same way it stirred me?
Although it may be easier said than done, bringing energy to a feature story has to do with truly getting to know the source and topic of your piece.
Elliot clearly knew Shata in and out. She detailed his daily work life down to what type of printer he uses. She interviewed other Muslims in the area that frequently worked with Shata and understood his responsibility as the neighborhood’s 911 operator. Elliot spent enough time side-by-side with Shata to dig to the roots of who he is, and that made the story exciting.
By reading Garrison’s advice on feature writing and seeing how applicable it is through Elliot’s feature piece, I can more clearly approach a piece of my own. Granted, it will not be anywhere near a Pulitzer Prize, but everyone has to start somewhere!