'Clear Seeing': The art of the lede.

The Write Stuff always is looking for good ledes and how writers put them together.  When Michael Cohen wrote about St. John’s University student Dariana Casado, both a model and a woman boxer aiming for the Olympics, he wanted to capture both sides of her persona.  He noticed the model’s smile and gleaming teeth but needed more to fill in her boxing side.  So he watched her fights on YouTube and was impressed by her good footwork and left jab.

Here’s what he came up with:

Dariana Casado will drop your jaw. She can do it with a look or a hook. She can use the full lips and gleaming teeth that punctuate her smile or seductive footwork complemented by a conservatively calculated barrage of punches.

Here’s how Michael thought about it:  “Jaw-dropping sounds cliche, but the dual meaning worked in this case. I was unsure about the ‘look or hook’ line but I liked the short sentence preceding a long descriptive sentence.”

We liked the punchy (you’ll excuse the expression) short sentence, too, which set up the longer descriptive sentence (although we might have left out the word ‘conservatively’).  The extra effort of watching her bouts on YouTube underscored how crucial reporting is in finding storytelling detail.

Colby Hamilton found himself at a routine and dismally attended first public meeting of New York City’s Charter Review Commission and found a way to make it interesting:

The sign outside the City University of New York Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium on Fifth Avenue reads, “Occupancy of more than 489 persons is dangerous and unlawful.”

But attendance inside was far short of the legal limit at the first public — and sparsely attended — meeting of the recently created Charter Review Commission on Tuesday night. This is a major problem as the group’s aim is to decide what, if any, overhauls to city government should be brought before voters in November.

Here’s how Colby thought about his lede:  “I was outside the room, interviewing people. I’m always looking for something physical, something grounded, to put people in the place I am. The sign sort of jumped out at me. ‘Yeah, we don’t really have to worry about that,’ I thought, and then realized that, wow, that’s actually pretty important.”

The instinct to ‘put people in the place I am’ is basic to good writing and reporting.  Colby took a sign people see every day and turned it into a strong storytelling detail.

The work done by Colby and Michael underscored a theme author Stephen King makes continually in his book, On Writing:  “The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”

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