With the longer, more in-depth stories required in the spring semester, there’s the temptation to use a long wind-up to pitch your story to readers. In fact, as Jere Hester reminded Write Stuff, it’s more critical than ever on these stories to hook the audience early with a sharp lede and nut graf. Readers will stick around for the longer ride if you let them know where your story is headed.
Almudena Toral did an excellent job of that for Women’s eNews with her look at the problem of domestic abuse among undocumented women. At the heart of her effort was some relentless reporting on her East Harlem beat to find a victim who would talk to her. After a lot of phone calls and visits with the woman, Almudena built enough trust to get her to talk for the record. The result was a powerful story that described the plight of Graciela Benes who arrived in New York City from Argentina “undocumented, unmarried, without children and barely speaking English.” For two years, she was brutalized by her boyfriend. In her nut graf, Almudena let the reader know that Graciela’s case wasn’t an isolated one:
Many undocumented women who suffer similarly don’t know they have options and fail to report domestic violence because of fear of deportation, said Evelyn García of the Violence Intervention Program, a New York City-based Latina organization that promotes nonviolent partner relationships and offers services for victims of domestic violence.
We also liked the way Almudena used specific details, like the lack of make-up, and vivid quotes to bring her story to life:
She was wearing a white wool sweater, jeans and had her hair in a ponytail on a recent evening. There was no makeup on her pale skin, no eyeliner around her blue eyes. That’s her usual look in recent years, she said. But it wasn’t what Beines used to wear before she experienced domestic violence. “The violence is not only the blow, the violence is also, ‘Don’t wear that, who are you talking with?’ ‘You should be able to buy all the groceries for this week with $20.’ ‘I don’t want you to leave the house alone,'” Beines said. She still doesn’t wear makeup regularly because, she says, she’s too scared to look her best and start attracting men again.
Shane Kavanaugh employed the same kind of story-telling detail in his feature for the New York Times on the people who flocked to an audition of a potential reality show:
Anastasia Kurinnaya, shod in a pair of black Aldo booties with five-inch heels, stepped carefully down the 10 rickety plywood stairs that led from the coat check into the grimy basement of Passion, a popular Russian dance club on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. She signed the release form handed to her by a guy with a clipboard and walked inside the small dingy room where the auditions were being held for “Brighton Beach,” a would-be reality TV show hyped as the Russian-American “Jersey Shore.”
Shane talked to Write Stuff about how he got such strong, story-telling details: “After running up and down the set of stairs a half-dozen times — listening to them creak, feeling them buckle under my feet, watching a steady stream of young women in heels struggle to get up and down them — I decided the stairs were an important scene for the story and made sure to count how many there were…I made sure to document their entire wardrobe, head to toe. If they had visible tattoos, I noted them. If a girl had finger nail polish on I wrote down what color it was. Before sending off my draft to the Times, I even called every person I was going to use in the story and confirmed what they were wearing. David Treybich, were you wearing a Rolex or Cartier watch? Anastasia, those booties you had on? What brand were they? And to be certain, were those five-inch heels?”
That’s great reporting — and the kind of detail that always will elevate your writing.