Show in the lead, tell in the nut graph
I was training a group of magazine writers recently, when one brave soul, Marty, shared this lead:
As someone who’s built build models in some exotic places, I know it’s easier when you have a special modeling studio.
“Hmmm …,” I said, “Exotic places, huh? Where are some of the most exotic places you’ve built models?”
“On a battleship during a storm,” Marty answered. “In a tent in Saudi Arabia. Under my blanket as a kid when I was supposed to be doing my homework.”
“Marty,” I said, “that’s your lead.”
Perhaps nothing is harder about writing a feature-style story than showing in the lead and telling in the nut graph. Illustrate, then explain. Most writers do the reverse.
Avoid Yup leads.
But if the price of entry to a feature story is a concrete lead, then abstract leads won’t do the job. Avoid dry, boring, abstract leads like:
In agriculture and the general economy, change can happen fast, and when it does, the ripples are often felt in the value of collateral.
I call these Yup leads, as in, Yup! I’m sure that’s true — I just don’t want to know any more about it!
Avoid Duh leads.
Another subset of abstract leads are Duh leads. They’re patronizing as well as dull. These leads trigger the Duh reflex:
Work on a new company doesn’t end once you’ve launched the business.
Oh, really? I thought I’d slap a logo on the door and wait for the cash to flood in.
If your lead triggers your readers’ “duh” reflex, write another lead.
Turn ideas into things.
Abstract leads like these focus on ideas. But, as American poet William Carlos Williams counseled, readers understand “no ideas but in things.”
The communicator’s job, then, is to turn ideas into things. Don’t start wide, then go granular. Lead with the specifics, then expand into generalities.
Show in the lead; tell in the nut graph.