The first paragraph of a story is much like a woman’s skirt. It has to be short enough to attract but long enough not to reveal too much.
When you read that, I’m quite certain you completely understand the purpose of a lead in a story. That definition came from a communications associate in Uganda and was shared with a group of us participating in communications training.
As reporters and writers, we are taught in college that the lead should hook us into the story. My journalism professor likened it to someone grabbing you by the throat and pulling you into the story. That always seemed a bit rough to me, so the skirt analogy resonated with me.
Simply put, the lead is your promise to the reader. It must capture the idea of your story and encourage the reader to continue. It’s important to make each word count.
I had not thought about leads in many years. Sure, I write them almost every day, or at least weekly. But as we discussed leads with individuals who were not familiar with the term, it really forced me to think about leads and how I was writing my story.
A colleague asked me, “How do I know what to include in the lead?” My answer was a technique that had been shared with me numerous times in my career and is known as the “tell-a-friend” technique. You imagine your friend – or neighbor or mom – asking what your story is about. You then answer the question in one sentence, capturing the essence of the story.
It’s good advice. Sometimes it’s good to return to the basics.