With Lousy Ledes, No One Reads
The inverted pyramid techniqueJuly 15, 2014 By Denny Hatch
All writers are in the business of selling.
We are selling the reader on going on to the next word, next sentence, next paragraph and next page—all the way to the end of whatever is being written.
This is true of every literary form—email, letter, résumé, memo, blog, white paper, business plan, article, advertisement, nonfiction book or novel.
The Place to Start Selling Is the Lede
Many writers start off by clearing their throats, rolling up their sleeves and rubbing their hands together. By then the reader is on Page 2, with nothing to show for the time spent.
Create a boring or obtuse lede and chances are the reader will go no further.
In a Capitol Weekly column, titled, "Please just give us the news and spare us the anecdotal lead," Will Shuck wrote:
I am sick to death of the anecdotal lead, that annoying habit of news writers to start a straightforward story by painting a quaint little picture of everyday life.
If the story is about a bill requiring pet owners to spay or neuter their dogs (just to pick an imaginary example), the anecdotal lead first tells us how much Janey Johnson loves Missy, her cocker spaniel.
No doubt Janey and Missy are a lovely pair, but a lot of us have jobs and kids and commutes and precious little time to muse about Missy's reproductive potential.
Two Lousy Ledes
Metropolitan Section front page of The New York Times on Sunday, June 22, 2014 featured three stories. Here are the heds and lede paragraphs of two of them:
'After the Storm, 20 Months in Limbo'
By Liz Robbins
One after another, caseworkers entered the small, stuffy Downtown Brooklyn conference room—the court of last resort.
The story is about New York homeowners nearly two years after hurricane Sandy, "where homes still have tarps on their roofs, plywood over their windows and gaping floorboards inside."
It is emphatically not about caseworkers in a stuffy conference room in downtown Brooklyn.