APPEAL AND PURPOSE
ANALYZING THE SUBJECT. When from many available subjects a writer is about to choose one, he should pause to consider its possibilities before beginning to write. It is not enough to say, "This is a good subject; I believe that I can write an article on it." He needs to look at the topic from every angle. He ought to ask himself, "How widespread is the interest in my subject? How much will it appeal to the average individual? What phases of it are likely to have the greatest interest for the greatest number of persons?" To answer these questions he must review the basic sources of pleasure and satisfaction.
WHAT INTERESTS READERS. To interest readers is obviously the prime object in all popular writing. The basis of interest in the news story, the special feature article, and the short story is essentially the same. Whatever the average person likes to hear and see, whatever gives him pleasure and satisfaction, is what he wants to read about. In order to test all phases of a given subject from this point of view, a writer needs to keep in mind the fundamental sources of satisfaction.
Subjects and phases of subjects that attract readers may, for convenience, be divided into the following classes, which, however, are not mutually exclusive: (1) timely topics, (2) unique, novel, and extraordinary persons, things, and events, (3) mysteries, (4) romance, (5) adventure, (6) contests for supremacy, (7) children, (8) animals, (9) hobbies and amusements, (10) familiar persons, places, and objects, (11) prominent persons, places, and objects, (12) matters involving the life, property, and welfare of others, (13) matters that affect the reader's own success and well-being.
Timeliness. Though not absolutely essential, timeliness is a valuable attribute of any subject. Readers like to feel that they are getting the latest facts and the newest ideas, in special feature articles as well as in the news. A subject need not be discarded, however, because it does not make a timely appeal. It may have interest in other respects sufficiently great to compensate for its lack of timeliness.
Many topics that at first glance seem quite unrelated to current activities are found on closer examination to have some aspects that may be brought into connection with timely interests. To a writer keenly alive to everything that is going on in the world, most subjects will be found to have some bearing on what is uppermost in men's minds. Emphasis on that point of contact with current ideas will give to the article the desired timeliness.
NOVELTY. When a person, object, or circumstance is unique, it arouses an unusual degree of interest. The first person to accomplish something out of the ordinary, the first event of its kind, the first of anything, arrests attention.
Closely associated with the unique is the extraordinary, the curious. If not absolutely the only one of its kind, a thing may still be sufficiently unusual to excite an uncommon degree of interest. Novelty has a perennial charm. Careful study of a subject is often necessary to reveal the novel and extraordinary phase of it that can best be emphasized.
MYSTERIES. The fascination for the human mind of whatever baffles it is so well known that it scarcely needs elaboration. Mysteries, whether real or fictitious, pique curiosity. Even the scholar and the practical man of affairs find relaxation in the mystery of the detective story. Real life often furnishes events sufficiently mysterious to make a special feature story that rivals fiction. Unexplained crimes and accidents; strange psychical phenomena, such as ghosts, presentiments, spiritism, and telepathy; baffling problems of the scientist and the inventor—all have elements of mystery that fascinate the average reader.
ROMANCE. The romance of real life is quite as interesting as that of fiction. As all the world loves a lover, almost all the world loves a love story. The course of true love may run smooth or it may not; in either case there is the romantic appeal. To find the romantic element in a topic is to discover a perennial source of attraction for all classes of readers.
ADVENTURE. Few in number are the persons who will not gladly escape from humdrum routine by losing themselves in an exciting tale of adventure. The thrilling exploits in real life of the engineer, the explorer, the soldier of fortune, the pioneer in any field, hold us spellbound. Even more commonplace experiences are not without an element of the adventurous, for life itself is a great adventure. Many special feature stories in narrative form have much the same interest that is created by the fictitious tale of adventure.
CONTESTS FOR SUPREMACY. Man has never lost his primitive love of a good fight. Civilization may change the form of the contest, but fighting to win, whether in love or politics, business or sport, still has a strong hold on all of us. Strikes, attempted monopolies, political revolutions, elections, championship games, diplomacy, poverty, are but a few of the struggles that give zest to life. To portray dramatically in a special article the clash and conflict in everyday affairs is to make a well-nigh universal appeal.
CHILDREN. Because we live in and for our children, everything that concerns them comes close to our hearts. A child in a photo-drama or in a news story is sure to win sympathy and admiration. The special feature writer cannot afford to neglect so vital a source of interest. Practical articles on the care and the education of children also have especial value for women readers.
ANIMALS. Wild or tame, at large or in captivity, animals attract us either for their almost human intelligence or for their distinctively animal traits. There are few persons who do not like horses, dogs, cats, and other pets, and fewer still who can pass by the animal cages at the circus or the "zoo." Hunting, trapping, and fishing are vocations for some men, and sport for many more. The business of breeding horses and cattle, and the care of live stock and poultry on the farm, must not be overlooked in the search for subjects. The technical aspects of these topics will interest readers of farm journals; the more popular phases of them make a wide general appeal.
HOBBIES AND AMUSEMENTS. Pastimes and avocations may be counted good subjects. Moving pictures, theaters, music, baseball, golf, automobiles, amateur photography, and a host of hobbies and recreations have enough enthusiastic devotees to insure wide reading for special feature stories about them.
THE FAMILIAR. Persons whom we know, places that we constantly see, experiences that we have had again and again, often seem commonplace enough, even when familiarity has not bred contempt; but when they appear unexpectedly on the stage or in print, we greet them with the cordiality bestowed on the proverbial long-lost friend. Local news interests readers because it concerns people and places immediately around them. Every newspaper man understands the desirability of increasing the attractiveness of a news event that happens elsewhere by rinding "local ends," or by giving it "a local turn." For special feature stories in newspapers, local phases are no less important. But whether the article is to be published in a newspaper or a magazine, familiar persons and things should be "played up" prominently.
THE PROMINENT. Many persons, places, and objects that we have never seen are frequently as real to us as are those that we see daily. This is because their names and their pictures have greeted us again and again in print. It is thus that prominent men and women become familiar to us. Because of their importance we like to read about them. If a special feature article in any of its phases concerns what is prominent, greater attractiveness can be given to it by "playing up" this point, be it the President of the United States or a well-known circus clown, Fifth Avenue or the Bowery, the Capitol at Washington or Coney Island, the Twentieth Century Limited or a Ford.
LIFE AND WELFARE OF OTHERS. Sympathy with our fellow beings and an instinctive recognition of our common humanity are inherent in most men and women. Nowhere is this more strikingly shown than in the quick and generous response that comes in answer to every call for aid for those in distress. So, too, we like to know how others feel and think. We like to get behind the veil with which every one attempts to conceal his innermost thoughts and feelings. Our interest in the lives and the welfare of others finds expression in various ways, ranging from social service and self-sacrificing devotion to gossip and secret confidences. These extremes and all that lies between them abound in that "human interest" upon which all editors insist.
This widespread interest in others affords to the writer of special articles one of his greatest opportunities, not only for preparing interesting stories, but for arousing readers to support many a good cause. To create sympathy for the unfortunate, to encourage active social service, to point the way to political reform, to show the advantages of better industrial conditions, to explain better business methods—all these are but a few of the helpful, constructive appeals that he may make effectively.
He may create this interest and stir his readers to action by either one of two methods: by exposing existing evils, or by showing what has been done to improve bad conditions. The exposure of evils in politics, business, and society constituted the "muck-raking" to which several of the popular monthly magazines owe their rise. This crusading, "searchlight" type of journalism has been largely superseded by the constructive, "sunlight" type. To explain how reforms have been accomplished, or are being brought about, is construed by the best of the present-day journals to be their special mission.
PERSONAL SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS. Every one is vitally concerned about his own prosperity and happiness. To make a success of life, no matter by what criterion we may measure that success, is our one all-powerful motive. Happiness, as the goal that we hope to reach by our success, and health, as a prime requisite for its attainment, are also of great importance to every one of us. How to make or save more money, how to do our work more easily, how to maintain our physical well-being, how to improve ourselves mentally and morally, how to enjoy life more fully—that is what we all want to know. To the writer who will show us how to be "healthy, wealthy, and wise," we will give our undivided attention.
Business and professional interests naturally occupy the larger part of men's thoughts, while home-making is the chief work of most women. Although women are entering many fields hitherto monopolized by men, the home remains woman's peculiar sphere. The purchase and preparation of food, the buying and making of clothing, the management of servants, the care of children—these are the vital concerns of most women. They realize, however, that conditions outside the home have a direct bearing on home-making; and each year they are taking a more active part in civic affairs. Matters of public health, pure food legislation, the milk and the water supply, the garbage collection, the character of places of amusement, the public schools, determine, in no small degree, the success and happiness of the home-maker.
Since the dominant interests of men and women alike are their business and their home, the special writer should undertake to connect his subject as closely as possible with these interests. To show, for example, how the tariff, taxes, public utility rates, price-fixing, legislation, and similar matters affect the business and home affairs of the average reader, is to give to these political and economic problems an interest for both men and women far in excess of that resulting from a more general treatment of them. The surest way to get the reader's attention is to bring the subject home to him personally.
Of the importance of presenting a subject in such a manner that the reader is led to see its application to himself and his own affairs, Mr. John M. Siddall, editor of the American Magazine, has said:
Every human being likes to see himself in reading matter—just as he likes to see himself in a mirror.
The reason so much reading matter is unpopular and never attracts a wide reading public lies in the fact that the reader sees nothing in it for himself. Take an article, we'll say, entitled "The Financial System of Canada." It looks dull, doesn't it? It looks dull because you can't quite see where it affects you. Now take an article entitled "Why it is easier to get rich in Canada than in the United States." That's different! Your interest is aroused. You wonder wherein the Canadian has an advantage over you. You look into the article to find out whether you can't get an idea from it. Yet the two articles may be basically alike, differing only in treatment. One bores you and the other interests you. One bores you because it seems remote. The other interests you because the writer has had the skill to translate his facts and ideas into terms that are personal to you. The minute you become personal in this world you become interesting.
COMBINING APPEALS. When the analysis of a topic shows that it possesses more than one of these appeals, the writer may heighten the attractiveness of his story by developing several of the possibilities, simultaneously or successively. The chance discovery by a prominent physician of a simple preventive of infantile paralysis, for instance, would combine at least four of the elements of interest enumerated above. If such a combination of appeals can be made at the very beginning of the article, it is sure to command attention.
DEFINITENESS OF PURPOSE. In view of the multiplicity of possible appeals, a writer may be misled into undertaking to do too many diverse things in a single article. A subject often has so many different aspects of great interest that it is difficult to resist the temptation to use all of them. If a writer yields to this temptation, the result may be a diffuse, aimless article that, however interesting in many details, fails to make a definite impression.
To avoid this danger, the writer must decide just what his purpose is to be. He must ask himself, "What is my aim in writing this article?" and, "What do I expect to accomplish?" Only in this way will he clarify in his mind his reason for writing on the proposed topic and the object to be attained.
With a definitely formulated aim before him, he can decide just what material he needs. An objective point to be reached will give his article direction and will help him to stick to his subject. Furthermore, by getting his aim clearly in mind, he will have the means of determining, when the story is completed, whether or not he has accomplished what he set out to do.
In selecting material, in developing the article, and in testing the completed product, therefore, it is important to have a definitely formulated purpose.
THREE GENERAL AIMS. Every special article should accomplish one of three general aims: it should (1) entertain, or (2) inform, or (3) give practical guidance.
The same subject and the same material may sometimes be so treated as to accomplish any one of these three purposes. If the writer's aim is merely to help readers pass a leisure hour pleasantly, he will "play up" those aspects of a topic that will afford entertainment and little or nothing else. If he desires to supply information that will add to the reader's stock of knowledge, he will present his facts in a manner calculated to make his readers remember what he has told them. If he proposes to give information that can be applied by readers to their own activities, he must include those details that are necessary to any one who desires to make practical use of the information.
When, for example, a writer is about to prepare an article, based on experience, about keeping bees on a small suburban place, he will find that he may write his story in any one of three ways. The difficulties experienced by the amateur bee-keeper in trying to handle bees in a small garden could be treated humorously with no other purpose than to amuse. Or the keeping of bees under such circumstances might be described as an interesting example of enterprise on the part of a city man living in the suburbs. Or, in order to show other men and women similarly situated just how to keep bees, the writer might explain exactly what any person would need to know to attain success in such a venture. Just as the purpose of these articles would vary, so the material and the point of view would differ.
ENTERTAINING ARTICLES. To furnish wholesome entertainment is a perfectly legitimate end in special feature writing. There is no reason why the humor, the pathos, the romance, the adventure, and mystery in life should not be presented in special feature stories for our entertainment and amusement, just as they are presented for the same purpose in the short story, the drama, and the photo-play. Many readers find special feature stories with real persons, real places, and real circumstances, more entertaining than fiction. A writer with the ability to see the comedies and the tragedies in the events constantly happening about him, or frequently reported in the press, will never lack for subjects and material.
WHOLESOME ENTERTAINMENT. The effect of entertaining stories on the ideas and ideals of readers ought not to be overlooked. According to the best journalistic standards, nothing should be printed that will exert a demoralizing or unwholesome influence. Constructive journalism goes a step further when it insists that everything shall tend to be helpful and constructive. This practice applies alike to news stories and to special articles.
These standards do not necessarily exclude news and special feature stories that deal with crime, scandal, and similar topics; but they do demand that the treatment of such subjects shall not be suggestive or offensive. To portray violators of the criminal or moral codes as heroes worthy of emulation; to gratify some readers' taste for the morbid; to satisfy other readers by exploiting sex—all are alike foreign to the purpose of respectable journalism. No self-respecting writer will lend the aid of his pen to such work, and no self-respecting editor will publish it.
To deter persons from committing similar crimes and follies should be the only purpose in writing on such topics. The thoughtful writer, therefore, must guard against the temptation to surround wrong-doers with the glamour of heroic or romantic adventure, and, by sentimental treatment, to create sympathy for the undeserving culprit. Violations of law and of the conventions of society ought to be shown to be wrong, even when the wrong-doer is deserving of some sympathy. This need not be done by moralizing and editorializing. A much better way is to emphasize, as the results of wrong-doing, not only legal punishment and social ostracism, but the pangs of a guilty conscience, and the disgrace to the culprit and his family.
A cynical or flippant treatment of serious subjects gives many readers a false and distorted view of life. Humor does not depend on ridicule or satire. The fads and foibles of humanity can be good-naturedly exposed in humorous articles that have no sting. Although many topics may very properly be treated lightly, others demand a serious, dignified style.
The men and women whom a writer puts into his articles are not puppets, but real persons, with feelings not unlike his own. To drag them and their personal affairs from the privacy to which they are entitled, and to give them undesired and needless publicity, for the sake of affording entertainment to others, often subjects them to great humiliation and suffering. The fact that a man, woman, or child has figured in the day's news does not necessarily mean that a writer is entitled to exploit such a person's private affairs. He must discriminate between what the public is entitled to know and what an individual has a right to keep private. Innocent wives, sweethearts, or children are not necessarily legitimate material for his article because their husband, lover, or father has appeared in the news. The golden rule is the best guide for a writer in such cases. Lack of consideration for the rights of others is the mark neither of a good writer nor of a true gentleman. Clean, wholesome special feature stories that present interesting phases of life accurately, and that show due consideration for the rights of the persons portrayed, are quite as entertaining as are any others.
INFORMATIVE ARTICLES. Since many persons confine their reading largely to newspapers and magazines, they derive most of their information and ideas from these sources. Even persons who read new books rely to some extent on special articles for the latest information about current topics. Although most readers look to periodicals primarily for new, timely facts, they are also interested to find there biographical and historical material that is not directly connected with current events. Every special feature writer has a great opportunity to furnish a large circle of readers with interesting and significant information.
In analyzing subjects it is necessary to discriminate between significant and trivial facts. Some topics when studied will be found to contain little of real consequence, even though a readable article might be developed from the material. Other themes will reveal aspects that are both trivial and significant. When a writer undertakes to choose between the two, he should ask himself, "Are the facts worth remembering?" and, "Will they furnish food for thought?" In clarifying his purpose by such tests, he will decide not only what kind of information he desires to impart, but what material he must select, and from what point of view he should present it.
ARTICLES OF PRACTICAL GUIDANCE. The third general purpose that a writer may have is to give his readers sufficiently explicit information to enable them to do for themselves what has been done by others. Because all persons want to know how to be more successful, they read these "how-to-do-something" articles with avidity. All of us welcome practical suggestions, tactfully given, that can be applied to our own activities. Whatever any one has done successfully may be so presented that others can learn how to do it with equal success. Special feature articles furnish the best means of giving this practical guidance.
In preparing a "how-to-do-something" article, a writer needs to consider the class of readers for which it is intended. A special feature story, for example, on how to reduce the cost of milk might be presented from any one of three points of view: that of the producer, that of the distributor, or that of the consumer. To be practical for dairy farmers, as producers of milk, the article would have to point out possible economies in keeping cows and handling milk on the farm. To be helpful to milk-dealers, as distributors, it would concern itself with methods of lowering the cost of selling and delivering milk in the city. To assist housewives, as consumers, the article would have to show how to economize in using milk in the home. An informative article for the general reader might take up all these phases of the subject, but an article intended to give practical guidance should consider the needs of only one of these three classes of persons.
In many constructive articles of practical guidance, the writer's purpose is so successfully concealed that it may at first escape the notice of the average reader. By relating in detail, for example, how an actual enterprise was carried out, a writer may be able to give his readers, without their realizing it, all the information they need to accomplish a similar undertaking. When he analyzes such articles, the student should not be misled into thinking that the writer did not have the definite purpose of imparting practical information. If the same material can be developed into an article of interesting information or into one of practical guidance, it is desirable to do the latter and, if necessary, to disguise the purpose.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE. In order to define his purpose clearly and to keep it constantly before him, a writer will do well to put down on paper his exact aim in a single sentence. If, for example, he desired to write a constructive article about an Americanization pageant held in his home city on the Fourth of July, he might write out the statement of his aim thus: "I desire to show how the Americanization of aliens may be encouraged in small industrial centers of from 3000 to 20,000 inhabitants, by describing how the last Fourth of July Americanization pageant was organized and carried out in a typical Pennsylvania industrial town of 5000."
Such a statement will assist a writer in selecting his material, in sticking to his subject, and in keeping to one point of view. Without this clearly formulated aim before him, it is easy for him to dwell too long on some phase of the subject in which he is particularly interested or on which he has the most material, to the neglect of other phases that are essential to the accomplishment of his purpose. Or, failing to get his aim clearly in mind, he may jump from one aspect of the subject to another, without accomplishing anything in particular. Many a newspaper and magazine article leaves a confused, hazy impression on the minds of readers because the writer failed to have a definite objective.
TYPES OF ARTICLES
METHODS OF TREATMENT. After choosing a subject and formulating his purpose, a writer is ready to consider methods of treatment. Again it is desirable to survey all the possibilities in order to choose the one method best adapted to his subject and his purpose. His chief consideration should be the class of readers that he desires to reach. Some topics, he will find, may be treated with about equal success in any one of several ways, while others lend themselves to only one or two forms of presentation. By thinking through the various possible ways of working out his subject, he will be able to decide which meets his needs most satisfactorily.
EXPOSITION BY NARRATION AND DESCRIPTION. The commonest method of developing a special feature article is that which combines narration and description with exposition. The reason for this combination is not far to seek. The average person is not attracted by pure exposition. He is attracted by fiction. Hence the narrative and descriptive devices of fiction are employed advantageously to supplement expository methods. Narratives and descriptions also have the advantage of being concrete and vivid. The rapid reader can grasp a concrete story or a word picture. He cannot so readily comprehend a more general explanation unaccompanied by specific examples and graphic pictures of persons, places, and objects.
Narration and description are used effectively for the concrete examples and the specific instances by which we illustrate general ideas. The best way, for example, to make clear the operation of a state system of health insurance is to relate how it has operated in the case of one or more persons affected. In explaining a new piece of machinery the writer may well describe it in operation, to enable readers to visualize it and follow its motions. Since the reader's interest will be roused the more quickly if he is given tangible, concrete details that he can grasp, the examples are usually put first, to be followed by the more general explanation. Sometimes several examples are given before the explanatory matter is offered. Whole articles are often made up of specific examples and generalizations presented alternately.
To explain the effects of a new anaesthetic, for example, Mr. Burton J. Hendrick in an article in McClure's Magazine, pictured the scene in the operating-room of a hospital where it was being given to a patient, showed just how it was administered, and presented the results as a spectator saw them. The beginning of the article on stovaine, the new anaesthetic, illustrating this method of exposition, follows:
A few months ago, a small six-year-old boy was wheeled into the operating theater at the Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled Children, in New York City. He was one of the several thousand children of the tenements who annually find their way into this great philanthropic institution, suffering from what, to the lay mind, seems a hopelessly incurable injury or malformation. This particular patient had a crippled and paralyzed leg, and to restore its usefulness, it was necessary to cut deeply into the heel, stretch the "Achilles tendon," and make other changes which, without the usual anesthetic, would involve excruciating suffering. According to the attendant nurses, the child belonged to the "noisy" class; that is, he was extremely sensitive to pain, screamed at the approach of the surgeon, and could be examined only when forcibly held down.
As the child came into the operating-room he presented an extremely pathetic figure—small, naked, thin, with a closely cropped head of black hair, and a face pinched and blanched with fear. Surrounded by a fair-sized army of big, muscular surgeons and white-clothed nurses, and a gallery filled with a hundred or more of the leading medical men of the metropolis, he certainly seemed a helpless speck of humanity with all the unknown forces of science and modern life arrayed against him. Under ordinary conditions he would have been etherized in an adjoining chamber and brought into the operating-room entirely unconscious. This cripple, however, had been selected as a favorable subject for an interesting experiment in modern surgery, for he was to undergo an extremely torturous operation in a state of full consciousness.
Among the assembled surgeons was a large-framed, black moustached and black-haired, quick-moving, gypsy-like Rumanian—Professor Thomas Jonnesco, dean of the Medical Department of the University of Bucharest, and one of the leading men of his profession in Europe. Dr. Jonnesco, who had landed in New York only two days before, had come to the United States with a definite scientific purpose. This was to show American surgeons that the most difficult operations could be performed without pain, without loss of consciousness, and without the use of the familiar anesthetics, ether or chloroform. Dr. Jonnesco's reputation in itself assured him the fullest opportunity of demonstrating his method in New York, and this six-year-old boy had been selected as an excellent test subject.
Under the gentle assurances of the nurses that "no one was going to hurt" him, the boy assumed a sitting posture on the operating-table, with his feet dangling over the edge. Then, at the request of Dr. Jonnesco, he bent his head forward until it almost touched his breast. This threw the child's back into the desired position—that of the typical bicycle "scorcher,"—making each particular vertebra stand out sharply under the tight drawn skin. Dr. Jonnesco quickly ran his finger along the protuberances, and finally selected the space between the twelfth dorsal and the first lumbar vertebrae—in other words, the space just above the small of the back. He then took an ordinary hypodermic needle, and slowly pushed it through the skin and tissues until it entered the small opening between the lower and upper vertebrae, not stopping until it reached the open space just this side of the spinal cord.
As the needle pierced the flesh, the little patient gave a sharp cry—the only sign of discomfiture displayed during the entire operation. When the hollow needle reached its destination, a few drops of a colorless liquid spurted out—the famous cerebro-spinal fluid, the substance which, like a water-jacket, envelops the brain and the spinal cord. Into this same place Dr. Jonnesco now introduced an ordinary surgical syringe, which he had previously filled with a pale yellowish liquid—the much-famed stovaine,—and slowly emptied its contents into the region that immediately surrounds the spinal cord.
For a few minutes the child retained his sitting posture as if nothing extraordinary had happened. Dr. Jonnesco patted him on the back and said a few pleasant words in French, while the nurses and assistants chatted amiably in English.
"How do you feel now?" the attending surgeon asked, after the lapse of three or four minutes.
"All right," replied the boy animatedly, "'cept that my legs feel like they was going to sleep."
The nurses now laid the patient down upon his back, throwing a handkerchief over his eyes, so that he could not himself witness the subsequent proceedings. There was, naturally, much holding of breath as Dr. Virgil P. Gibney, the operating surgeon, raised his knife and quickly made a deep incision in the heel of this perfectly conscious patient. From the child, however, there was not the slightest evidence of sensation.
"Didn't you feel anything, my boy?" asked Dr. Gibney, pausing.
"No, I don't feel nothin'," came the response from under the handkerchief.
An operation lasting nearly half an hour ensued. The deepest tissues were cut, the tendons were stretched, the incision was sewed up, all apparently without the patient's knowledge.
Some types of articles, although expository in purpose, are entirely narrative and descriptive in form. By relating his own experiences in a confession story, for example, a writer may be able to show very clearly and interestingly the dangers of speculations in stocks with but small capital. Personality sketches are almost always narrative and descriptive.
Many of the devices of the short story will be found useful in articles. Not only is truth stranger than fiction, but facts may be so presented as to be even more interesting than fiction. Conversation, character-drawing, suspense, and other methods familiar to the writer of short stories may be used effectively in special articles. Their application to particular types of articles is shown in the following pages.
SPECIAL TYPES OF ARTICLES. Although there is no generally recognized classification of special feature articles, several distinct types may be noted, such as (1) the interview, (2) the personal experience story, (3) the confession article, (4) the "how-to-do-something" article, (5) the personality sketch, (6) the narrative in the third person. These classes, it is evident, are not mutually exclusive, but may for convenience be treated separately.
THE INTERVIEW. Since the material for many articles is obtained by means of an interview, it is often convenient to put the major part, if not the whole, of the story in interview form. Such an article may consist entirely of direct quotation with a limited amount of explanatory material concerning the person interviewed; or it may be made up partly of direct quotation and partly of indirect quotation, combined with the necessary explanation. For greater variety it is advisable to alternate direct and indirect quotations. A description of the person interviewed and of his surroundings, by way of introduction, gives the reader a distinct impression of the individual under characteristic conditions. Or some striking utterance of his may be "played up" at the beginning, to be followed by a picture of him and his surroundings. Interviews on the same topic with two or more persons may be combined in a single article.
The interview has several obvious advantages. First, the spoken word, quoted verbatim, gives life to the story. The person interviewed seems to be talking to each reader individually. The description of him in his surroundings helps the reader to see him as he talks. Second, events, explanations, and opinions given in the words of one who speaks with authority, have greater weight than do the assertions of an unknown writer. Third, the interview is equally effective whether the writer's purpose is to inform, to entertain, or to furnish practical guidance. Romance and adventure, humor and pathos, may well be handled in interview form. Discoveries, inventions, new processes, unusual methods, new projects, and marked success of any kind may be explained to advantage in the words of those responsible for these undertakings.
In obtaining material for an interview story, a writer should bear in mind a number of points regarding interviewing in general. First, in advance of meeting the person to be interviewed, he should plan the series of questions by which he hopes to elicit the desired information. "What would my readers ask this person if they had a chance to talk to him about this subject?" he must ask himself. That is, his questions should be those that readers would like to have answered. Since it is the answers, however, and not the questions, that will interest readers, the questions in the completed article should be subordinated as much as possible. Sometimes they may be skillfully embodied in the replies; again they may be implied merely, or entirely omitted. In studying an interview article, one can generally infer what questions the interviewer used. Second, he must cultivate his memory so that he can recall a person's exact words without taking notes. Most men talk more freely and easily when they are not reminded of the fact that what they are saying is to be printed. In interviewing, therefore, it is desirable to keep pencil and paper out of sight. Third, immediately after leaving the person whom he has interviewed, the writer should jot down facts, figures, striking statements, and anything else that he might forget.
EXAMPLES OF THE INTERVIEW ARTICLE. As a timely special feature story for Arbor Day, a Washington correspondent used the following interview with an expert as a means of giving readers practical advice on tree-planting:
ARBOR DAY ADVICE
WASHINGTON, April 1.—Three spadefuls of rich, pulverized earth will do more to make a young tree grow than a 30-minute Arbor day address by the president of the school board and a patriotic anthem by the senior class, according to Dr. Furman L. Mulford, tree expert for the department of agriculture.
Not that Dr. Mulford would abbreviate the ceremonies attendant upon Arbor day planting, but he thinks that they do not mean much unless the roots planted receive proper and constant care. For what the Fourth of July is to the war and navy departments, and what Labor day is to the department of labor, Arbor day is to the department of agriculture.
While the forestry bureau has concerned itself primarily with trees from the standpoint of the timber supply, Dr. Mulford has been making a study of trees best adapted for streets and cities generally. And nobody is more interested than he in what Arbor day signifies or how trees should be chosen and reared.
"We need trees most where our population is the thickest, and some trees, like some people, are not adapted to such a life," said Dr. Mulford. "For street or school yard planting one of the first considerations is a hardy tree, that can find nourishment under brick pavements or granite sidewalks. It must be one that branches high from the ground and ought to be native to the country and climate. America has the prettiest native trees and shrubs in the world and it is true patriotism to recognize them.
"For Southern states one of the prettiest and best of shade trees is the laurel oak, and there will be thousands of them planted this spring. It is almost an evergreen and is a quick growing tree. The willow oak is another.
"A little farther north the red oak is one of the most desirable, and in many places the swamp maple grows well, though this latter tree does not thrive well in crowded cities.
"Nothing, however, is prettier than the American elm when it reaches the majesty of its maturity and I do not believe it will ever cease to be a favorite. One thing against it, though, is the 'elm beetle,' a pest which is spreading and which will kill some of our most beautiful trees unless spraying is consistently practised. China berry trees, abundant in the South, and box elders, native to a score of states, are quick growing, but they reach maturity too soon and begin to go to pieces."
"What is the reason that so many Arbor day trees die?" Dr. Mulford was asked.
"Usually lack of protection, and often lack of care in planting," was the answer. "When the new tree begins to put out tender rootlets a child brushing against it or 'inspecting' it too closely will break them off and it dies. Or stock will nip off the new leaves and shoots and the result is the same. A frame around the tree would prevent this.
"Then, often wild trees are too big when transplanted. Such trees have usually only a few long roots and so much of these are lost in transplanting that the large trunk cannot be nourished by the remainder. With nursery trees the larger they are the better it is, for they have a lot of small roots that do not have to be cut off.
"Fruit trees are seldom so successful as shade trees, either along a street or road or in a yard. In the first place their branches are too low and unless carefully pruned their shape is irregular. Then they are subject to so many pests that unless constant care is given them they will not bear a hatful of fruit a season.
"On the other hand, nut trees are usually hardy and add much to the landscape. Pecan, chestnut, walnut and shaggy bark hickory are some of the more popular varieties."
The first Arbor day was observed in Nebraska, which has fewer natural trees than any other state. This was in 1872, and Kansas was the second to observe the day, falling into line in 1875. Incidentally Kansas ranks next to Nebraska in dearth of trees.
The Arbor day idea originated with J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraskan who was appointed secretary of agriculture by Cleveland. Now every state in the Union recognizes the day and New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and others have gotten out extensive Arbor day booklets giving information concerning trees and birds; most of them even contain appropriate songs and poems for Arbor day programs.
How an interview combined with a description of a person may serve to create sympathy for her and for the cause that she represents is shown in the following article, which was published anonymously in the Sunday magazine section of the Ohio State Journal. It was illustrated with two half-tone portraits, one of the young woman in Indian costume, the other showing her in street dress.
JUST LIKE POCAHONTAS OF 300 YEARS AGO
"Oh, East is East and West is West, And never the two shall meet."
BUT they may send messengers. Hark to the words of "One-who-does-things-well."
"I carry a message from my people to the Government at Washington," says Princess Galilolie, youngest daughter of John Ross, hereditary King of the "Forest Indians," the Cherokees of Oklahoma. "We have been a nation without hope. The land that was promised us by solemn treaty, 'so long as the grass should grow and the waters run,' has been taken from us. It was barren and wild when we received it seventy years ago. Now it is rich with oil and cultivation, and the whites coveted our possessions. Since it was thrown open to settlers no Cherokee holds sovereign rights as before, when it was his nation. We are outnumbered. I have come as a voice from my people to speak to the people of the Eastern States and to those at Washington—most of all, if I am permitted to do so, to lay our wrongs before the President's wife, in whose veins glows the blood of the Indian."
Only nineteen is this Indian princess—this twentieth century Pocahontas—who travels far to the seats of the mighty for her race.
She is a tall, slim, stately girl from the foothills of the Ozarks, from Tahlequah, former capital of the Cherokee Nation. She says she is proud of every drop of Indian blood that flows in her veins. But her skin is fair as old ivory and she is a college girl—a girl of the times to her finger-tips.
"When an Indian goes through college and returns to his or her people," she says with a smile, "they say, 'Back to the blanket!' We have few blankets among the Cherokees in Tahlequah. I am the youngest of nine children, and we are all of us college graduates, as my father was before us."
He is John Ross 3d, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, of mingled Scotch and Indian blood, in descent from "Cooweeskowee," John Ross I., the rugged old Indian King who held out against Andrew Jackson back in 1838 for the ancient rights of the Five Nations to their lands along the Southern Atlantic States.
She sat back on the broad window seat in the sunlight. Beyond the window lay a bird's-eye view of New York housetops, the white man's permanent tepee. Some spring birds alighted on a nearby telephone wire, sending out twittering mating cries to each other.
"They make me want to go home," she said with a swift, expressive gesture. "But I will stay until the answer comes to us. Do you know what they have called me, the old men and women who are wise—the full-bloods? Galilolie—'One-who-does-things-well.' With us, when a name is given it is one with a meaning, something the child must grow to in fulfillment. So I feel I must not fail them now."
"You see," she went on, lifting her chin, "it is we young half-bloods who must carry the strength and honor of our people to the world so it may understand us. All our lives we have been told tales by the old men—how our people were driven from their homes by the Government, how Gen. Winfield Scott's soldiers came down into our quiet villages and ordered the Indians to go forth leaving everything behind them. My great-grandfather, the old King Cooweeskowee, with his wife and children, paused at the first hilltop to look back at his home, and already the whites were moving into it. The house is still standing at Rossville, Ga. Do you know what the old people tell us children when we wish we could go back there?" Her eyes are half closed, her lips compressed as she says slowly, thrillingly: "They tell us it is easy to find the way over that 'Trail of Tears,' that through the wilderness it is blazed with the gravestones of those who were too weak to march.
"That was seventy years ago, in 1838. The Government promised to pay amply for all it took from us, our homes and lands, cattle—even furniture. A treaty was made solemnly between the Indians and the United States that Oklahoma should be theirs 'as long as the grass should grow and the waters run.'
"That meant perpetuity to us, don't you see?" She makes her points with a directness and simplicity that should disarm even the diplomatic suavity of Uncle Sam when he meets her in Washington. "Year after year the Cherokees waited for the Government to pay. And at last, three years ago, it came to us—$133.19 to each Indian, seventy-eight years after the removal from Georgia had taken place.
"Oil was discovered after the Indians had taken the wilderness lands in Oklahoma and reclaimed them. It was as if God, in reparation for the wrongs inflicted by whites, had given us the riches of the earth. My people grew rich from their wells, but a way was found to bind their wealth so they could not use it. It was said the Indians were not fit to handle their own money."
She lifts eyebrows and shoulders, her hands clasped before her tightly, as if in silent resentment of their impotence to help.
"These are the things I want to tell; first our wrongs and then our colonization plan, for which we hope so much if the Government will grant it. We are outnumbered since the land was opened up and a mass of 'sooners,' as we call them—squatters, claimers, settlers—swarmed in over our borders. The Government again offered to pay us for the land they took back—the land that was to be ours in perpetuity 'while the grass grew and the waters ran.' We were told to file our claims with the whites. Some of us did, but eight hundred of the full-bloods went back forty miles into the foothills under the leadership of Red Bird Smith. They refuse to sell or to accept the Government money for their valuable oil lands. To appease justice, the Government allotted them lands anyway, in their absence, and paid the money for their old property into the banks, where it lies untouched. Red Bird and his 'Night Hawks' refuse to barter over a broken treaty.
"Ah, but I have gone up alone to the old men there." Her voice softens. "They will talk to me because I am my father's daughter. My Indian name means 'One-who-does-things-well.' So if I go to them they tell me their heart longings, what they ask for the Cherokee.
"And I shall put the message, if I can, before our President's wife. Perhaps she will help."
THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ARTICLE. A writer's own experiences, given under his name, under a pseudonym, or in anonymous form, can easily be made interesting to others. Told in the first person, such stories are realistic and convincing. The pronoun "I" liberally sprinkled through the story, as it must be, gives to it a personal, intimate character that most readers like. Conversation and description of persons, places, and objects may be included to advantage in these personal narratives.
The possibilities of the personal experience story are as great as are those of the interview. Besides serving as a vehicle for the writer's own experiences, it may be employed to give experiences of others. If, for example, a person interviewed objects to having his name used, it is possible to present the material obtained by the interview in the form of a personal experience story. In that case the article would have to be published without the writer's name, since the personal experiences that it records are not his own. Permission to present material in a personal experience story should always be obtained from the individual whose experiences the writer intends to use.
Articles designed to give practical guidance, to show readers how to do something, are particularly effective when written in the first person. If these "how-to-do-something" articles are to be most useful to readers, the conditions under which the personal experience was obtained must be fairly typical. Personal experience articles of this type are very popular in women's magazines, agricultural journals, and publications that appeal to business men.
EXAMPLES OF THE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE STORY. The opportunities for service offered to women by small daily newspapers are set forth in the story below, by means of the personal experiences of one woman. The article was published in the Woman's Home Companion, and was illustrated by a half-tone reproduction of a wash drawing of a young woman seated at her desk in a newspaper office.
"THEY CALL ME THE 'HEN EDITOR'"
THE STORY OF A SMALL-TOWN NEWSPAPER WOMAN
By SADIE L. MOSSLER
"What do you stay buried in this burg for? Why, look how you drudge! and what do you get out of it? New York or some other big city is the place for you. There's where you can become famous instead of being a newspaper woman in a one-horse town."
A big city newspaper man was talking. He was in our town on an assignment, and he was idling away spare time in our office. Before I could answer, the door opened and a small girl came to my desk.
"Say," she said, "Mama told me to come in here and thank you for that piece you put in the paper about us. You ought to see the eatin's folks has brought us! Heaps an' heaps! And Ma's got a job scrubbin' three stores."
The story to which she referred was one that I had written about a family left fatherless, a mother and three small children in real poverty. I had written a plain appeal to the home people, with the usual results.
"That," I said, "is one reason that I am staying here. Maybe it isn't fame in big letters signed to an article, but it's another kind."
His face wore a queer expression; but before he could retort another caller appeared, a well-dressed woman.
"What do you mean," she declared, "by putting it in the paper that I served light refreshments at my party?"
"Wasn't it so?" I meekly inquired.
"No!" she thundered. "I served ice cream, cake and coffee, and that makes two courses. See that it is right next time, or we'll stop the paper."
Here my visitor laughed. "I suppose that's another reason for your staying here. When we write anything about a person we don't have to see them again and hear about it."
"But," I replied, "that's the very reason I cling to the small town. I want to see the people about whom I am writing, and live with them. That's what brings the rewards in our business. It's the personal side that makes it worth while, the real living of a newspaper instead of merely writing to fill its columns."
In many small towns women have not heretofore been overly welcome on the staff of the local paper, for the small town is essentially conservative and suspicious of change. This war, however, is changing all that, and many a woman with newspaper ambitions will now have her chance at home.
For ten years I have been what may be classified as a small town newspaper woman, serving in every capacity from society reporter to city and managing editor. During this time I have been tempted many times to go to fields where national fame and a larger salary awaited those who won. But it was that latter part that held me back, that and one other factor: "Those who won," and "What do they get out of it more than I?"
It is generally conceded that for one woman who succeeds in the metropolitan newspaper field about ten fail before the vicissitudes of city life, the orders of managing editors, and the merciless grind of the big city's working world. And with those who succeed, what have they more than I? They sign their names to articles; they receive big salaries; they are famous—as such fame goes. Why is a signed name to an article necessary, when everyone knows when the paper comes out that I wrote the article? What does national fame mean compared with the fact that the local laws of the "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" were not being enforced and that I wrote stories that remedied this condition?
I began newspaper life as society reporter of a daily paper in a Middle-Western town of ten thousand inhabitants. That is, I supposed I was going to be society reporter, but before very long I found myself doing police assignments, sport, editing telegraph, and whatever the occasion demanded.
I suppose that the beginnings of everyone's business life always remain vivid memories. The first morning I reported for work at seven o'clock. Naturally, no one was in the front office, as the news department of a small-town newspaper office is sometimes called. I was embarrassed and nervous, and sat anxiously awaiting the arrival of the city editor. In five minutes he gave me sufficient instructions to last a year, but the only one I remember was, "Ask all the questions you can think of, and don't let anyone bluff you out of a story."
My first duty, and one that I performed every morning for several years, was to "make" an early morning train connecting with a large city, forty miles away. It was no easy task to approach strangers and ask their names and destination; but it was all good experience, and it taught me how to approach people and to ask personal questions without being rude.
During my service as society reporter I learned much, so much that I am convinced there is no work in the smaller towns better suited to women. Any girl who is bright and quick, who knows the ethics of being a lady, can hold this position and make better money at it than by teaching or clerking.
Each trade, they say, has its tricks, and being a society reporter is no exception. In towns of from one thousand to two thousand inhabitants, the news that Mrs. X. is going to give a party spreads rapidly by that system of wireless telegraphy that excels the Marconi—neighborhood gossip. But in the larger towns it is not so easy. In "our town," whenever there is a party the ice cream is ordered from a certain confectioner. Daily he permitted us to see his order book. If Mrs. Jones ordered a quart of ice cream we knew that she was only having a treat for the family. If it were two quarts or more, it was a party, and if it was ice cream in molds, we knew a big formal function was on foot.
Society reporting is a fertile field, and for a long time I had been thinking that society columns were too dull. My ideal of a newspaper is that every department should be edited so that everyone would read all the paper. I knew that men rarely read the social column. One day a man said to me that he always called his wife his better judgment instead of his better half. That appealed to me as printable, but where to put it in the paper? Why not in my own department? I did so. That night when the paper came out everyone clamored to know who the man was, for I had merely written, "A man in town calls his wife his better judgment instead of his better half."
Then I decided to make the society department a reflection of our daily life and sayings. In order to get these in I used the initials of my title, "S.R." I never used names, but I always managed to identify my persons.
As one might expect, I brought down a storm about my head. Many persons took the hints for themselves when they were not so intended, and there were some amusing results. For instance, when I said in the paper that "a certain man in a down-town store has perfect manners," the next day twelve men thanked me, and I received four boxes of candy as expressions of gratitude.
There were no complaints about the society column being dull after this; everyone read it and laughed at it, and it was quoted in many exchanges. Of course, I was careful to hurt no one's feelings, but I did occasionally have a little good-natured fun at the expense of people who wouldn't mind it. Little personal paragraphs of this sort must never be malicious or mean—if the paper is to keep its friends.
Of all my newspaper experience I like best to dwell on the society reporting; but if I were to advance I knew that I must take on more responsibility, so I became city editor of another paper. I was virtually managing editor, for the editor and owner was a politician and was away much of the time. It was then that I began to realize the responsibility of my position, to grapple with the problem of dealing fairly both with my employer and the public. The daily life with its varying incidents, the big civic issues, the stories to be handled, the rights of the advertisers to be considered, the adjusting of the news to the business department—all these were brought before me with a powerful clarity.
When a woman starts on a city paper she knows that there are linotypes, presses and other machinery. Often she has seen them work; but her knowledge of "how" they work is generally vague. It was on my third day as city editor that I realized my woeful ignorance of the newspaper business from the mechanical viewpoint. I had just arrived at the office when the foreman came to my desk.
"Say," he said, "we didn't get any stuff set last night. Power was off. Better come out and pick out the plate you want to fill with."
What he meant by the power being off I could understand, and perforce I went out to select the plate. He handed me long slabs of plate matter to read. Later I learned that printed copies of the plate are sent for selection, but in my ignorance I took up the slabs and tried to read the type. To my astonishment it was all backward, and I found myself wondering if it were a Chinese feature story. Finally I threw myself on his mercy and told him to select what he chose. As I left the composing-room I heard him say to one of the printers: "That's what comes of the boss hiring a hen editor."
Shortly after noon a linotype operator came to me with his hands full of copy.
"If you want any of this dope in the paper," he said, "you'll have to grab off a paragraph here and there. My machine's got a bad squirt, and it'll take an hour or more to fix it."
Greek, all Greek! A squirt! I was too busy "grabbing off" paragraphs to investigate; but then and there I resolved to penetrate all these mysteries. I found the linotype operator eager to show me how his machine works, and the foreman was glad to take me around and instruct me in his department and also in the pressroom. I have had trouble with printers since; but in the end they had to admit that the "hen editor" knew what she was talking about.
There is a great cry now for woman's advancement. If the women are hunting equality as their goal let them not seek out the crowded, hostile cities, but remain in the smaller places where their work can stand out distinctly. A trite phrase expresses it that a newspaper is the "voice of the people." What better than that a woman should set the tune for that voice?
Equality with men! I sit at my desk looking out over the familiar home scene. A smell of fresh ink comes to me, and a paper just off the press is slapped down on my desk.
"Look!" says the foreman. "We got out some paper today, didn't we?"
"We!" How's that for equality? He has been twenty years at his trade and I only ten, yet he includes me.
When I am tempted to feel that my field is limited, my tools crude, and my work unhonored and unsung, I recall a quotation I read many years ago, and I will place it here at the end of the "hen editor's" uneventful story.
Back before my mind floats that phrase, "Buried in this burg." If a person has ability, will not the world learn it?
"If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or sing a more glorious song than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."
That a personal experience story may be utilized to show readers how to do something is demonstrated in the following article taken from The Designer. It was illustrated by a half-tone made from a wash drawing of one corner of the burlap room.
A BEDROOM IN BURLAP
THE MOST SATISFACTORY ROOM IN OUR BUNGALOW
BY KATHERINE VAN DORN
Our burlap room is the show room of our bungalow. Visitors are guided through the living-room, the bedroom, the sleeping-porch and kitchen, and allowed to express their delight and satisfaction while we wait with bated breath for the grand surprise to be given them. Then, when they have concluded, we say:
"But you should see our burlap room!" Then we lead the way up the stairs to the attic and again stand and wait. We know what is coming, and, as we revel in the expressions of admiration evoked, we again declaim with enormous pride: "We made it all ourselves!"
There is a solid satisfaction in making a room, especially for an amateur who hardly expects to undertake room-making as a profession. We regard our room as an original creation produced by our own genius, not likely to be duplicated in our personal experience. It grew in this wise:
When we came to the bungalow last spring the family numbered three instead of the two of the year before. Now number three, a healthy and bouncing young woman, necessitated a "sleeping-in" maid if her parents were ever to be able to detach themselves from her person. We had never had a sleeping-in maid at the bungalow before and the problem of where to put her was a serious one. We well knew that no self-respecting servant would condescend to sleep in an attic, although the attic was cool, airy and comfortable. We rather thought, too, that the maid might despise us if we gave her the bedroom and took up our quarters under the rafters. It would be an easy enough matter for carpenters and plasterers to put a room in the attic, but we lacked the money necessary for such a venture. And so we puzzled. At first we thought of curtains, but the high winds which visit us made curtains impracticable. Then we thought of tacking the curtains top and bottom, and from this the idea evolved. The carpenter whom we consulted proved to be amenable to suggestion and agreed to put us up a framework in a day. We helped. We outlined the room on the floor. This took two strips of wood about one and a half by two inches. The other two sides of the room were formed by the wall of the attic and by the meeting place of the roof and floor—that is, there was in reality no fourth wall; the room simply ended where floor and roof met. Two strips were nailed to the rafters in positions similar to those on the floor, and then an upright strip was inserted and nailed fast at intervals of every three feet. This distance was decided by the fact that curtain materials usually come a yard wide. For a door we used a discarded screen-door, which, having been denuded of the bits of wire clinging to it, answered the purpose very well. The door completed the skeleton.
We used a beautiful soft blue burlap. Tacking on proved a more difficult matter than we had anticipated, owing to the fact that our carpenter had used cypress for the framework. We stretched the material taut and then tacked it fast with sharp-pointed, large-headed brass tacks, and while inserting these we measured carefully the distances between the tacks in order to keep this trimming uniform. The two walls supplied by the framework were quickly covered, but the rough wall of the attic necessitated some cutting, as we had to tack the burlap to the uprights and these had not been placed with yard-wide material in view. Above the screen-door frame was a hiatus of space running up into the peak. The carpenter had thoughtfully run two strips up to the roof and this enabled us to fill in by cutting and turning in the cloth. A corresponding space above the window received similar treatment. Then we covered the inner surface of the screen door and we had a room.
But we were far from satisfied. The room looked bare and crude. We bought a can of dark-oak stain and gave the floor a coat and this improved matters so much that we stained the wood visible on the door frame and about the window. Having finished this, we saw the need of doing something for the ceiling. The ceiling was merely the inner surface of the roof. The builders had made it of boards of varying sizes, the rafters were rough and splintery and there were myriads of nails sticking through everywhere. It looked a hopeless task. But we bought more stain and went to work. Before beginning we covered our precious blue walls with newspapers, donned our oldest clothes and spread papers well over the floor. It was well that we did. The staining was not difficult work but the nails made it splashy and we were pretty well spotted when we finished.
But when we did finish we felt compensated. The nails had become invisible. The dull blue walls with their bright brass trimming, the soft brown floor and the stained, raftered roof made the room the most attractive in the house. We could not rest, although the hour was late and we were both tired, until we had furnished it. We put in a couple of small rugs, a brass bed, and a white bureau. We hung two pictures securely upon the uprights of the skeleton. We added a couple of chairs and a rack for clothing, put up a white madras curtain at the window, and regarded the effect with the utmost satisfaction. The room answered the purpose exactly. The burlap was thick enough to act as a screen. It was possible to see movement through it, but not form. It insured privacy and still permitted the air to pass through for ventilation. As a finishing touch we screwed a knob on the outside of the door, put a brass hook on the inside and went downstairs to count the cost.
As a quick and inexpensive method of adding to the number of rooms in one's house, the making of a burlap room is without an equal. The idea is not patented, and we who deem ourselves its creators, are only too happy to send it on, in the hope that it may be of service to some other puzzled householder who is wondering where to put an added family member.
THE CONFESSION STORY. Closely akin to the personal experience article is the so-called "confession story." Usually published anonymously, confession stories may reveal more personal and intimate experiences than a writer would ordinarily care to give in a signed article. Needless to say, most readers are keenly interested in such revelations, even though they are made anonymously. Like personal experience stories, they are told in the first person with a liberal use of the pronoun "I."
A writer need not confine himself to his own experiences for confession stories; he may obtain valuable material for them from others. Not infrequently his name is attached to these articles accompanied by the statement that the confession was "transcribed," "taken down," or "recorded" by the writer.
Conditions of life in classes of society with which the reader is not familiar may be brought home to him through the medium of the confession story. It may be made the means of arousing interest in questions about which the average reader cares little. The average man or woman, for example, is probably little concerned with the problem of the poorly paid college professor, but hundreds of thousands doubtless read with interest the leading article in an issue of the Saturday Evening Post entitled, "The Pressure on the Professor." This was a confession story, which did not give the author's own experiences but appeared as "Transcribed by Walter E. Weyl." This article was obviously written with the purpose, skillfully concealed, of calling attention to the hard lot of the underpaid professor.
Constructive criticism of existing conditions may be successfully embodied in the form of a confession article that describes the evils as they have been experienced by one individual. If the article is to be entirely effective and just, the experience of the one person described must be fairly typical of that of others in the same situation. In order to show that these experiences are characteristic, the writer may find it advantageous to introduce facts and figures tending to prove that his own case is not an isolated example. In the confession article mentioned above, "The Pressure on the Professor," the assistant professor who makes the confession, in order to demonstrate that his own case is typical, cites statistics collected by a colleague at Stanford University giving the financial status of 112 assistant professors in various American universities.
Confessions that show how faults and personal difficulties have been overcome prove helpful to readers laboring under similar troubles. Here again, what is related should be typical rather than exceptional.
EXAMPLES OF THE CONFESSION STORY. That an intimate account of the financial difficulties of a young couple as told by the wife, may not only make an interesting story but may serve as a warning to others, is shown in the confession story below. Signed "F.B.," and illustrated with a pen and ink sketch of the couple at work over their accounts, it was printed in Every Week, a popular illustrated periodical formerly published by the Crowell Publishing Company, New York.
THE THINGS WE LEARNED TO DO WITHOUT
We were married within a month of our commencement, after three years of courtship at a big Middle West university. Looking back, it seems to me that rich, tumultuous college life of ours was wholly pagan. All about us was the free-handed atmosphere of "easy money," and in our "crowd" a tacit implication that a good time was one of the primary necessities of life. Such were our ideas when we married on a salary of one hundred dollars a month. We took letters of introduction to some of the "smart" people in a suburb near Chicago, and they proved so delightfully cordial that we settled down among them without stopping to consider the discrepancies between their ways and our income. We were put up at a small country club—a simple affair enough, comparatively speaking—that demanded six weeks' salary in initial dues and much more in actual subsequent expense. "Everybody" went out for Saturday golf and stayed for dinner and dancing.
By fall there was in working operation a dinner club of the "younger married set," as our local column in the city papers called us; an afternoon bridge club; and a small theater club that went into town every fortnight for dinner and a show. Costly little amusements, but hardly more than were due charming young people of our opportunities and tastes. I think that was our attitude, although we did not admit it. In September we rented a "smart" little apartment. We had planned to furnish it by means of several generous checks which were family contributions to our array of wedding gifts. What we did was to buy the furniture on the instalment plan, agreeing to pay twenty dollars a month till the bill was settled, and we put the furniture money into running expenses.
It was the beginning of a custom. They gave most generously, that older generation. Visiting us, Max's mother would slip a bill into my always empty purse when we went shopping; or mine would drop a gold piece into my top bureau drawer for me to find after she had gone. And there were always checks for birthdays.
Everything went into running expenses; yet, in spite of it, our expenses ran quite away. Max said I was "too valuable a woman to put into the kitchen," so we hired a maid, good-humoredly giving her carte blanche on the grocery and meat market. Our bills, for all our dining out, were enormous. There were clothes, too. Max delighted in silk socks and tailored shirts, and he ordered his monogramed cigarettes by the thousand. My own taste ran to expensive little hats.
It is hardly necessary to recount the details. We had our first tremendous quarrel at the end of six months, when, in spite of our furniture money and our birthday checks, we found ourselves two hundred and fifty dollars in debt. But as we cooled we decided that there was nothing we could do without; we could only be "more careful."
Every month we reached that same conclusion. There was nothing we could do without. At the end of the year on a $1200 salary we were $700 behind; eight months later, after our first baby came, we were over a thousand—and by that time, it seemed, permanently estranged. I actually was carrying out a threat of separation and stripping the apartment, one morning, when Max came back from town and sat down to discuss matters with me.
A curious labyrinthine discussion it was, winding from recriminations and flat admissions that our marriage was a failure and our love was dead, to the most poignant memories of our engagement days. But its central point was Max's detached insistence that we make marriage over into a purely utilitarian affair.
"Man needs the decencies of a home," he said over and over. "It doesn't do a fellow any good with a firm like mine to have them know he can't manage his affairs. And my firm is the kind of firm I want to work for. This next year is important; and if I spend it dragging through a nasty divorce business, knowing that everybody knows, I'll be about thirty per cent efficient. I'm willing to admit that marriage—even a frost like ours—is useful. Will you?"
I had to. My choice rested between going home, where there were two younger sisters, or leaving the baby somewhere and striking out for myself.
"It seems to me," said Max, taking out his pencil, "that if two reasonably clever people can put their best brain power and eight hours a day into a home, it might amount to something sometime. The thing resolves itself into a choice between the things we can do without and the things we can't. We'll list them. We can't do without three meals and a roof; but there must be something."
"You can certainly give up silk socks and cigarettes," I said; and, surprisingly, on this old sore point between us Max agreed.
"You can give up silk stockings, then," he said, and put them down. Silk socks and silk stockings! Out of all possible economies, they were the only things that we could think of. Finally—
"We could make baby an excuse," I said, "and never get out to the club till very late—after dinner—and stay just for the dancing. And we could get out of the dinner club and the theater bunch. Only, we ought to have some fun."
"You can go to matinees, and tell me about them, so we can talk intelligently. We'll say we can't leave the kid nights—"
"We can buy magazines and read up on plays. We'll talk well enough if we do that, and people won't know we haven't been. Put down: 'Magazines for plays.'"
He did it quite seriously. Do we seem very amusing to you? So anxious lest we should betray our economies—so impressed with our social "position" and what people might think! It is funny enough to me, looking back; but it was bitter business then.
I set myself to playing the devoted and absorbed young mother. But it was a long, long time before it became the sweetest of realities. I cried the first time I refused a bridge game to "stay with baby"; and I carried a sore heart those long spring afternoons when I pushed his carriage conspicuously up and down the avenue while the other women motored past me out for tea at the club. Yet those long walks were the best thing that ever happened to me. I had time to think, for one thing; and I gained splendid health, losing the superfluous flesh I was beginning to carry, and the headaches that usually came after days of lunching and bridge and dining.
I fell into the habit, too, of going around by the market, merely to have an objective, and buying the day's supplies. The first month of that habit my bills showed a decrease of $16.47. I shall always remember that sum, because it is certainly the biggest I have ever seen. I began to ask the prices of things; and I made my first faint effort at applying our game of substitution to the food problem, a thing which to me is still one of the most fascinating factors in housekeeping.
One afternoon in late summer, I found a delightful little bungalow in process of building, on a side street not so very far from the proper avenue. I investigated idly, and found that the rent was thirty dollars less than we were paying. Yet even then I hesitated.
It was Max who had the courage to decide.
"The only thing we are doing without is the address," he said, "And that isn't a loss that looks like $360 to me."
All that fall and winter we kept doggedly at our game of substitution. Max bought a ready-made Tuxedo, and I ripped out the label and sewed in one from a good tailor. I carried half a dozen dresses from the dyer's to a woman who evolved three very decent gowns; and then I toted them home in a box with a marking calculated to impress any chance acquaintance. We were so ashamed of our attempts at thrift that they came hard.
Often enough we quarreled after we had been caught in some sudden temptation that set us back a pretty penny, and we were inevitably bored and cross when we refused some gayety for economy's sake. We resolutely decided to read aloud the evenings the others went to the theater club; and as resolutely we substituted a stiff game of chess for the bridge that we could not afford. But we had to learn to like them both.
Occasionally we entertained at very small, very informal dinners, "on account of the baby"; and definitely discarded the wines that added the "smartness" demanded at formal affairs. People came to those dinners in their second or third best: but they stayed late, and laughed hilariously to the last second of their stay.
In the spring we celebrated Max's second respectable rise in salary by dropping out of the country club. We could do without it by that time. At first we thought it necessary to substitute a determined tramp for the Sunday morning golf game; but we presently gave that up. We were becoming garden enthusiasts. And as a substitution for most of the pleasure cravings of life, gardening is to be highly recommended. Discontent has a curious little trick of flowing out of the earthy end of a hoe.
Later that summer I found that a maid was one of the things I could do without, making the discovery in an interregnum not of my original choosing. A charwoman came in for the heavier work, and I took over the cooking. Almost immediately, in spite of my inexperience, the bills dropped. I could not cook rich pastries and fancy desserts, and fell back on simple salads and fruit instead. I dipped into the household magazines, followed on into technical articles on efficiency, substituted labor-savers wherever I could, and started my first muddled set of accounts.
At the beginning of the new year I tried my prentice hand on a budget; and that was the year that we emerged from debt and began to save.
That was six very short years ago. When, with three babies, the bungalow became a trifle small, we built a little country house and moved farther out. Several people whom we liked best among that first "exclusive younger set" have moved out too, and formed the nucleus of a neighborhood group that has wonderful times on incomes no one of which touches $4000 a year.
Ours is not as much as that yet; but it is enough to leave a wide and comfortable margin all around our wants. Max has given up his pipe for cigarettes (unmonogramed), and patronizes a good tailor for business reasons. But in everything else our substitutions stand: gardening for golf; picnics for roadhouse dinners; simple food, simple clothing, simple hospitality, books, a fire, and a game of chess on winter nights.
We don't even talk about economies any more. We like them. But—every Christmas there comes to me via the Christmas tree a box of stockings, and for Max a box of socks—heavy silk. There never is any card in either box; but I think we'll probably get them till we die.
The following short confession, signed "Mrs. M.F.E.," was awarded the first prize by the American Magazine in a contest for articles on "The Best Thing Experience Has Taught Me":
Forty Years Bartered for What?
A tiny bit of wisdom, but as vital as protoplasm. I know, for I bartered forty precious years of wifehood and motherhood to learn it.
During the years of my childhood and girlhood, our family passed from wealth to poverty. My father and only brother were killed in battle during the Civil War; our slaves were freed; our plantations melted from my mother's white hands during the Reconstruction days; our big town house was sold for taxes.
When I married, my only dowry was a fierce pride and an overwhelming ambition to get back our material prosperity. My husband was making a "good living." He was kind, easy-going, with a rare capacity for enjoying life and he loved his wife with that chivalrous, unquestioning, "the queen-can-do-no-wrong" type of love.
But even in our days of courting I answered his ardent love-making with, "And we will work and save and buy back the big house; then we will—" etc., etc.
And he? Ah, alone at sixty, I can still hear echoing down the years his big tender laugh, as he'd say, "Oh, what a de-ah, ambitious little sweetheart I have!"
He owned a home, a little cottage with a rose garden at one side of it—surely, with love, enough for any bride. But I—I saw only the ancestral mansion up the street, the big old house that had passed out of the hands of our family.
I would have no honeymoon trip; I wanted the money instead. John kissed each of my palms before he put the money into them. My fingers closed greedily over the bills; it was the nest egg, the beginning.
Next I had him dismiss his bookkeeper and give me the place. I didn't go to his store—Southern ladies didn't do that in those days—but I kept the books at home, and I wrote all the business letters. So it happened when John came home at night, tired from his day's work at the store, I had no time for diversions, for love-making, no hours to walk in the rose garden by his side—no, we must talk business.
I can see John now on many a hot night—and summer is hot in the Gulf States—dripping with perspiration as he dictated his letters to me, while I, my aching head near the big hot lamp, wrote on and on with hurried, nervous fingers. Outside there would be the evening breeze from the Gulf, the moonlight, the breath of the roses, all the romance of the southern night—but not for us!
The children came—four, in quick succession. But so fixed were my eyes on the goal of Success, I scarcely realized the mystery of motherhood. Oh, I loved them! I loved John, too. I would willingly have laid down my life for him or for any one of the children. And I intended sometime to stop and enjoy John and the children. Oh, yes, I was going really to live after we had bought back the big house, and had done so and so! In the meanwhile, I held my breath and worked.
"I'll be so glad," I remember saying one day to a friend, "when all my children are old enough to be off at school all day!" Think of that! Glad when the best years of our lives together were passed! The day came when the last little fellow trudged off to school and I no longer had a baby to hamper me. We were living now in the big old home. We had bought it back and paid for it. I no longer did John's bookkeeping for him—he paid a man a hundred dollars a month to do that—but I still kept my hand on the business.
Then suddenly one day—John died. Died in what should have been the prime and vigor of his life.
I worked harder than ever then, not from necessity, but because in the first few years after John left I was afraid to stop and think. So the years hurried by! One by one the children grew up and entered more or less successful careers of their own.... I don't feel that I know them so very well.
And now that the time of life has come when I must stop and think, I ask myself: "What did you do with the wonderful gifts Life laid in your lap—the love of a good man, domestic happiness, the chance to know intimately four little souls?"
And being honest I have to answer: "I bartered Life's great gifts for Life's pitiful extras—for pride, for show!"
If my experience were unique it would not be worth publishing, but it is only too common. Think of the wives who exchange the best years of their lives, their husband's comfort, his peace of mind, if not to buy back the family mansion, then for a higher social position; sometimes it is merely for—clothes!
It is to you women who still have the opportunity to "walk with John in the garden" that I give my dearly bought bit of experience. Stop holding your breath until you get this or that; stop reaching out blindly for to-morrow's prize; live to-day!
THE "HOW-TO-DO-SOMETHING" ARTICLE. Articles the primary purpose of which is to give directions for doing something in a particular way, are always in demand. The simplest type is the recipe or formula containing a few directions for combining ingredients. More elaborate processes naturally demand more complex directions and require longer articles. In the simpler types the directions are given in the imperative form; that is, the reader is told to "take" this thing and that, and to "mix" it with something else. Although such recipe directions are clear, they are not particularly interesting. Many readers, especially those of agricultural journals, are tired of being told to do this and that in order to get better results. They are inclined to suspect the writer of giving directions on the basis of untried theory rather than on that of successful practice. There is an advantage, therefore, in getting away from formal advice and directions and in describing actual processes as they have been carried on successfully.
Articles intended to give practical guidance are most interesting when cast in the form of an interview, a personal experience, or a narrative. In an interview article, a person may indirectly give directions to others by describing in his own words the methods that he has used to accomplish the desired results. Or the writer, by telling his own experiences in doing something, may give readers directions in an interesting form.
Whatever method he adopts, the writer must keep in mind the questions that his readers would be likely to ask if he were explaining the method or process to them in person. To one who is thoroughly familiar with a method the whole process is so clear that he forgets how necessary it is to describe every step to readers unfamiliar with it. The omission of a single point may make it impossible for the reader to understand or to follow the directions. Although a writer need not insult the intelligence of his readers by telling them what they already know, he may well assume that they need to be reminded tactfully of many things that they may have known but have possibly forgotten.
TWO PRACTICAL GUIDANCE ARTICLES. A method of filing office records, as explained apparently by the man who devised it, is well set forth in the following combination of the personal experience and the "how-to-do-something" types of articles. It appeared in System with a half-tone reproduction of a photograph showing a man looking over records in a drawer of the desk at which he is seated.