Thursday, December 22, 2005


by John Rains (

Profiles demand a lot of a writer. And when they are done well,
they showcase a writer's skill. All too often, however, profiles
fall short. This is usually because:

1. The character remains undeveloped as a person. The profile may
give a lot of facts about the person, but he doesn't emerge as a
human being.

2. The piece lacks depth. Again, we may get a lot of facts, but
we don't get below the surface with insights about who the person
is, what moves him. We may have a lot facts, but what do they

3. The piece lacks breadth. Often the profile gives only a narrow
part of the person's life. If, for example, the subject is a
politician, the profile may tell a lot about the person's
political career without delving into other aspects of his life.
People are more than their jobs, their political lives or
whatever it is that causes us to choose to profile them.

4. The piece is larded with gush quotes. Some writers seem to
think that the purpose of a profile is to praise the subject, or
have others do it. That is totally wrong -- it is not our job to
do PR flackery in a profile, nor, for that matter to do a hatchet
job. Even if it were our purpose to elevate the subject, gush
quotes are a terrible way to do it. They turn readers off; and
they make the writer sound like a toady.

A rule: If you set out to do a profile on a living saint, don't
waste space quoting five people telling us that the subject is a
saint. Instead, show us the subject doing saintly things.

That is one of the key techniques for making profiles or any
story come to vivid life -- showing, with a minimum of telling.


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