Books, Chingonas, Travel, Wisdom, Writing

10 Tips to a Gripping Lede

AROHO Writer's Retreat, NM
Morning view at Ghost Ranch, NM

This morning I woke to the prison gray sky of my coastal town making me nostalgic for the turquoise New Mexican sky above the biting burros of Ghost Ranch. The memories I am left with are photos, mosquito bites, fragrance of hay and red clay, the sound of laughter, heart breaking words, and wisdom from inspiring women writers.

AROHO’s Retreat for Women Writer’s filled me with more than memories and new friendships but also with valuable information about the craft of writing. Amazing poets, writers and artists shared information to help others, to give new perspectives to old topics, to enlighten, energize and invigorate words and writing. These women are bien chignonas of the third kind: generous, strong, and creative.

For the next few weeks I’ll intermittently share some of their information, their words of wisdom, and hope that it will help you in your writing.

The first writer is Jennifer Steil, the author of  The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.  She is a journalist, novelist, creative non-fiction writer, and generous soul.

Author Jennifer Steil

She shared 10 tips to a gripping lede. A  little history lesson first.  The spelling of lede was to distinguish the word from lead, a strip of metal separating lines of type in the very earlier days of newspaper reporting. A lede is the first line, lines or the first paragraph of a magazine or newspaper article which also includes most of the five W’s and the H.

With Jennifer’s permission, here are the 10 tips I jotted down:

  1. Establish curiosity in the readers mind. Whet the appetite. Be creative with a purpose (the lede must be part of the story).

    “Millionaire Harold F. McCormick today bought a poor man’s youth.” – about an organ transplant

  2. Jolt your reader:Include a detail that differentiates it from others. A telling detail.
  3. Use an arresting image (related to the story).

    “Bad things happen to the husbands of widow Elkhorn.”

  4. Use active verbs: someone did something
  5. Don’t start with an attribution. (said, or meandering clauses).
  6. Use an analogy to lead. This explains the unknown.
  7. Word play leads. Use playful ways of beginning:

    Snow, followed by small boys on sleds. – Allen Smith NY Telegram, in a weather forecast

  8. The writer has 3.7 seconds to get someone to read their story. What makes the story interesting?
  9. Give a character lead. Give a portrait of the subject with two or three sentences.
  10. The lede has to have something specific to tell the reader. Keep the lede short, 25-35 words.

To be honest, Jennifer gave us a couple of more tips but these are the ones I had time to jot down. Check out her website and FB for other information. Her new book, The Ambassador’s Wife, will debut in 2014.


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