Narrative Structure: The Backbone of Great Feature Stories

Public radio listeners have what's been described as a 'vigilant curiosity' about the world. They want to know what's happening in their nation, around the globe and in their communities. When producing local coverage, we need to always think how a topic in our community connects with what one Sense of Place study listener called "the greater whole."

Producing stories that provide depth, context and connection also requires great writing, carefully chosen sound and a structure that provides focus and narrative momentum. Without structure, you end up with what amounts to sonic wallpaper: stories that may be aesthetically pleasing but lack the depth, substance and power that make a story both information-rich and memorable.

One basic formula for producing stories that can meet the high expectations of our listeners is called The 4-Part Story. This structure formula is a basic, framework for rookie reporters who need guidance on how to organize a long-form story with many threads.

For experienced reporters, it's a starting point to develop alternate structures, based on the particular story to be assembled. For News Directors, it's an effective tool to quickly identify problems with story narrative, help their reporters make repairs and ultimately deliver stronger, deeper journalism to listeners.