The lead’s the thing. Editing sessions with new students last week suggested many of you struggle to come up with leads that hook readers. A common flaw: Too much information crammed into the first paragraph. When you stuff most of your notebook into that first graf, you drown your readers, and yourselves. Consider some leads Jere Hester highlighted for us from this summer’s internships. You’ll see how a writer can use imagery (Lindsay Lazarski on, arrgh, the smells and sights of rat infestation), contrasts (Damiano Beltrami, on a Spanish speaker at an Arabic-speaking university) and contradictions (Carla Murphy, on how African-American jazz greats were treated at home and abroad) to entice readers to stay with your story. Some, like Joe Walker, even violate the usual strictures against quote leads. The true test is what works.
How do you know when something works? Bounce your leads off professors, editors, colleagues. Talk about what works, and what doesn’t. Analyze good leads in newspapers and magazines. Think about some ideas we shared last year. From that list, my favorite advice is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t worry, you’ll get lots of practice trying to write the best possible lead.