By Matt DeBow
Linda Sellers’ feature story about a Vietnamese refugee profiles Hoang Nguyen who fled from south Vietnam in 1981 and worked her way through school to become a surgeon. The story was published in special section of the Register Guard. The story is an exemplary rags-to-riches story and quite inspiring. Nguyen fled Vietnam and is now working as a surgeon at the Oregon Heart and Vascular Institute at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend.
The article is written mainly in present tense even though it describes historical events.
Sellers uses one minor detail about the subjects face in the story by writing, “Her beautiful face beginning to show the emotional toll of telling her story.” This is where this feature most differs from a hard news story. Writing that Nguyen’s face is beautiful is an opinion and describing her face to show the emotional toll is descriptive writing. This is what Tim Harrower says in his book “Inside Reporting” makes a good profile by capturing mannerisms.
The other thing that Harrower says makes a profile is interviewing. How well an interviewer can convince someone to share intimate details of their life. This article was put together by interviews or perhaps just one well done interview with the subject of the piece.
The piece is written in newspaper style with simple prose, short sentences and short paragraphs.
The piece tells Nguyens entire life story in 750 words. This is condensed because the feature covers 30 years of her life.
The story is chronologically written. This works because it was printed as a separate section of the Register Guard and the story needs is interesting when put in order because the escape from Vietnam is the most interesting part of the story.
Harrower suggests before the closing quote, which this feature uses, to write “what lies ahead” in this case Nguyen has already accomplished her goal, so writing what lies ahead would not have worked for this article.
Harrower also suggest to “avoid fact-choked chronologies.” While this profile is a chronology with quite a few facts, a boat with 117 people that was built for 60 on it “while bullets flew over their heads” is quite interesting. The facts themselves are interesting, but instead of just rehashing the facts in order Sellers recreates the scenes of being stuck on a ship that was fleeing Vietnam. Interspersed in these scenes are quotes from Nguyen that illuminate the story.