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Leading the Lede

Writing a lede is like walking a tight rope: you have one shot to place one foot in front of the other and make it across … otherwise, it’s certain death. Dramatic? Yes. True? Absolutely. Quite simply, without a good lede, you may never have  a reader dig any deeper into what you are writing. And when sending pitches, it could be the difference between having an editor phone you right away and write you off.

It really is that important. Heck , just thinking about it makes me a little anxious. Seriously. Respect the lede.

Back when I was on staff at the New Haven Register, I had writing ledes down to a science. Once I knew what my story was about (something that I often sorted out in my head driving to and from meetings), I banged out the lede and got right to the story. Once the story was done, I would skim, tweak and send before I could change my mind. Honestly, I found that the first thought for the lede was almost always the best one.

It worked.

With stories that aren’t breaking news, writing a lede can be a little trickier. But the same formula I used then still works for me now.

So, how can you craft a good lede?

  • Don’t over-think it. Easier said than done, right? Well, really this is the important trick to it. If you overthink it, you are sure to overdo it.
  • Write it fast and go ahead with the story. Revisit it when you are done. Yes, really. This goes along with the first tip. Just write something and move on. Once you have the whole story on paper, go back and adjust the lede to reflect the point of the story … but don’t force it. Once the story is written, the lede should come easily.
  • Minimize words, maximize information. Remember that saying about not buying the cow when you can get the milk for free? Well, it applies here. Basically, you want to whet the appetite with information, but still leave the reader wanting more … and all that must be done without unnecessary fluff.
  • Make it dynamic. The lede should have a feeling of motion or momentum … if it’s ho-hum, you will lose the reader. So, make it sing.
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