Here at the Write Stuff, we see a lot of leads that try to do too much. But as the weeks go by, we’re noticing more students who’ve discovered the magic of mystery.
Rather than cramming every theme and angle into the first graf, students use seductive sentences that lure readers to find out more.
Check these out:
The window of Zaytoons looked decidedly unadorned. (Christopher Schuetze)
Trina Pietz and Alecia Gersh layered on the same shade of lipstick, donned turquoise sequined tops, teased their hair, put on identical black pumps and marched out on stage. (Megan Finnegan)
Water doesn’t trickle down from the right basin of Jeanette Davis’ sink – it pours. (Alana Casanova-Burgess)
He picked the wrong park to play in. (Jessica Simeone)
What do you notice about these leads? They’re simple subject-verb sentences. They use active verbs. Most importantly, they create a whiff of mystery. They make us read on. They reward us with stories that fulfill the promise of their opening sentences. Check them out: Schuetze, Finnegan, Casanova-Burgess, Simeone.
It’s a technique, says writing coach Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute, that works for both mystery writers and smart journalists. Here’s an irresistible example Scanlan cited from a crime story in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer:
Three bodies, two counties, one case, no suspects.
Like Scanlan says in his book, “Reporting and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century,” news consumers don’t have the patience to wait a long time for the answers. But it’s the mystery that worked its magic on them in the first place.