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What makes a good lede?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Batman, Mar 11, 2008.

  1. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    With all of the lede threads, and the way the "favorite lede" thread jumped off the tracks, I figured this might be a good topic. What makes a lede good or bad?
    Obviously, cliches are awful. Reading "It was a dark and stormy night," "It was a tale of two halves," and the like are like watching the Titanic ship off. But I've read just as many bad ones that try to suck you in with a dramatic scene and fail miserably. And not every story can or should start like that anyway.
    So what makes a good lede? Serious question.
  2. ColbertNation

    ColbertNation Member

    Simplicity rules all.
  3. digger

    digger New Member

    I'll take the Potter Stewart approach (I hope I have the right justice). I know it when I see it.
  4. editorhoo

    editorhoo Member

    I try to write with the idea of trying to make the reader want to read the next paragraph, so to me, a good lede is one that makes the reader keep reading.

    To be more specific, if I'm writing about something big, I don't just blurt it out in the lede. First, I show the reader that something big happened, then I tell the reader specifically what it was.
  5. old_tony

    old_tony Well-Known Member

    A good lede makes you want to keep reading even if you're not particularly interested in the subject.

    Some stories, the reader is going to keep reading because he knows it's about something he's interested in.

    A good lede draws even the casual reader in.
  6. awriter

    awriter Active Member

    What makes a good lede? That's subjective.
    But if you're using cliches or trying hard to be clever, then take your cursor and highlight the lede. Then, hit the delete key.
  7. Three thoughts on good ledes:

    1. The anecdote may be forced sometime, but a good one almost always works. Nothing gives the reader a better sense of the broader picture than a shorter story representative of the whole thing. It's easy to do poorly, it's easy to overwrite, and it's easy to force something that's not there. But in feature stories, whenever I have a great anecdote, I lead with it. If you have enough faith in your own ability that you feel you can make it sing given the right information, you should, too.

    2. As a former editor told me: Bring the Bear. Give me good stuff, right up top. Catch my attention. Don't lull me to sleep and try to wake me up with your best information further down in the story. Hit me over the goddamn head with it. I want to be hooked. I want to feel like I have to read more. But don't ...

    3. Give it all away. Growing up, I hated ledes, even gamer leads, that took away all the suspense at the very beginning. I don't want "In the final minutes of Southern California's 88-84 victory over UCLA ..." No! Spend that first graf building up to the rest of the story, not giving the reader a reason to read just the first few lines. You're not the AP. I believe this is even more important now in an era when we all know the final score before we take the rubber band off the paper. Inverted triangle be damned. Find a way of hooking me without draining all the mystery. It's possible. Great writers do it every day.
  8. Piotr Rasputin

    Piotr Rasputin New Member

    A couple of random thoughts:

    - Put forth an effort to be somewhat creative, and somewhat original. Act like you care, and the reader will hopefully do the same. Never start a gamer with "The (school) (sport) team" . . . that's akin to mailing in the story before it even gets going.

    - ColbertNation is right. Simplicity. If it's something you have to explain later, OK, but that explanation had better be soon.

    - Brevity. Keep from rambling on, squeezing every bit of information into the lead.

    - Avoid the cliche, absolutely. But sometimes, you can create your own cliche if the situation calls for it. Whimsy is OK, in moderation.

    - Don't overthink it, but don't be afraid to try out a few different ones, especially during the breaks in a game you're doing on deadline. The journalism world is littered with people who stare at their screen, on deadline, trying to come up with a lead, when A. They should have thought of a couple of options earlier, based on the game's possible outcomes; and B. They're on deadline! Just write "LEAD HERE" up top, and get going on the damn story. The lead doesn't have to be a theme that carries throughout the entire piece every time out.
  9. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

  10. PeteyPirate

    PeteyPirate Guest

    Think you can tighten that up? Our JV bowling writer went a little long today.
  11. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    A good lede is a paragraph that draws the reader in and all but compels him or her to keep reading. It can be a unique turn of phrase. It can be imagery. But it's got to draw the reader in and make him or her care.

    I had a student writer who did a piece on winter forecasts for my county. To quote the reporter I had who read it, the student's story was good enough where he wanted to keep reading, not because there was any lacking information, but because it was so engaging. In fact, that reporter strongly suggested I e-mail the student to let him know how highly we all thought of his story.

    I had a former student writer working for the local J-school's wire service. He wrote a unique lede on a story about allergies in my state that gave such great imagery that I just had to use it.
  12. txscoop

    txscoop Member

    The 3 things I was always taught to never write in a lede is..

    A) Never start the story with a question--- The reader wants answers. They don't want to answer questions.

    B) Never write in second person--- bad style

    C) Never start your lede with a quote--- unless the quote is, "The world will end on Sunday," God said.
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