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The "start with a very specific scene" feature open

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by spud, Jan 11, 2011.

  1. spud

    spud Member

    I'm not entirely sure how to frame this argument, but I'm going to try. I may be doing this just to play devil's advocate, because God knows I've used this technique plenty of times before, but I want to see if there's any discussion to be had here.

    So -- and I'm not calling out Shelley Smith, she just happens to be the guinea pig here -- I start up on Shelley Smith's Pete Carroll article on ESPN, and it's good enough, some good color, inside access, whatever... but the lead. Is this being abused, overused, whatever? The "this is where I happened to come across my subject" lead. Anyway, here it is:

    And thus ensues the meat. I won't go back through the amalgam of features I could find with very similar openings, but is this kind of thing... I'm not sure about it. I've read the same story framework so many times. Is this getting played out? Is it the access itself that's so valuable, thus redeeming any sort of repetitive nature the story presents? Is it repetitive? Does it only seem this way because I'm in the business myself?

    Personally, this is a go-to sort of "easy way out" when it comes to features. Observe something interesting or out of the ordinary in your interview, extrapolate the circumstances out to something greater, and bam, you've got a full quarter of your article banged out already. I'm not "above" this thinking in any way, and like I said, I've used this technique before and I'll likely use it again. But is it becoming formulaic? Is it used too often in lieu of a more in-depth search? Again, not picking on Smith, it's just what I came across.

    I'll be interested to hear your thoughts. There may be nothing here, but I figured I'd throw it out for the grand jury just in case.

    YGBFKM Guest

    I couldn't get past John Mayer.
  3. secretariat

    secretariat Active Member

    I didn't know you had a thing for Jessica Simpson.
  4. CentralIllinoisan

    CentralIllinoisan Active Member

    Hands poised above a keyboard, Kanye West blasting in his ears, CentralIllinoisan thinks. Quickly, fingers fly and keys tap. He has an idea.

    "When they are not overwritten and serve the theme of the piece," CI quickly clicks into the keyboard, "I have no problem with them."
  5. I'm now self-conscious after finishing a story with this sort of lede just a few minutes ago.
  6. Point of Order

    Point of Order Active Member


    is just the
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2014
  7. zebracoy

    zebracoy Guest

    You posted the same photo twice.
  8. JRoyal

    JRoyal Well-Known Member

    Can't we argue that 90 percent of the leads people use are just a variation on some other overused construction? Even when it's used a lot, when something's done well, it can add to the story. In this case, it may not have been the greatest (I haven't read the whole story and probably won't since I believe Pete Carroll, while not the Devil himself, is one of Satan's favorite demons), but just about any lead can be done well or done poorly. Just like ending a story in a quote.

    Of course, the holiday lead can never be done well. Never. It's the exception that proves the rule.
  9. Small Town Guy

    Small Town Guy Well-Known Member

    I get a bit tired of them with the celeb profiles in Rolling Stone and Esquire but as others have said, when they're done well they certainly work. Sometimes they don't. Over the years I've started to think that the beginning isn't quite as important as I used to think. A few years ago I posted a thread about the ledes in the New Yorker. Go through an average issue and you'll see numerous stories each week that begin with "On January 2, blah blah blah," or, "One day last March, etc." A ton of them start like that. Yet the stories are almost always fascinating and extraordinarily well-written. Maybe I have more patience where I don't have to be bowled over in the first 25 words anymore.

    So I still enjoy most scene-setting openings, as long as it's not some starlet who's "cuter than you think and she's nibbling on a plate of french fries at Perkins at 2 a.m."
  10. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    Here's the crux for me: Is the picture you paint an accurate showing of the subject's life/day? Does it happen every day, is it part of their routine, or was what you saw completely random? Sometimes I worry that I'm putting significance on something the subject doesn't consider big. Like the Mayer song....does Carroll listen to Mayer all the time? Or was that on when she met with him by chance? That's a factor, in my mind at least.
  11. azom

    azom Member

    Somewhere along the line, I was told to avoid the "sitting in the chair" scene-setter to open a story. It's overused, and it's hard for a scene of someone sitting in a chair to be compelling.
  12. da man

    da man Well-Known Member

    The one I hate is the meeting in a restaurant, when the writer tells you exactly what the sublect of the story ordered/ate and drank, right down to the brand of soda/booze/beer. Even worse is when the writer feels compelled to tell you what he/she ordered/ate and drank.

    Every so often, these kinds of scenes tell you something compelling or important. The one that comes to mind is the Steve Nash feature in Sports Illustrated awhile back in which Nash pulls up to this fancy restaurant with valet parking on his bicycle and has the valets park the bike (they park it between two Cadillacs). The description of the place is quite over the top, but the visual of Nash riding up on a mountain bike in a T-shirt and shorts at this hoity-toity place said something about Nash.

    Usually, though, it just comes across as a look-at-me device.
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