The other night The Wizard of Oz was on and I watched Dorothy and her crew sing about following the yellow brick road. It was a simple instruction, but it dawned on me the yellow brick road was a terribly convoluted roadway, with twists and turns all over place. Who were the city engineers on that project? Sheesh!
Some ledes are the same way. They are good enough to hook the reader, but take so long to get to the point readers lose interest and turn the page or hit the back button. Here are a few rules of the road:
Red Light – Tickets and Fines
- Five to six paragraphs in and the writer is still introducing the subject. Be advised, more than two introductory paragraphs in a typical magazine article prompts “Are we there yet?” Keep it to one paragraph for most web articles.
- Anecdotes that need explanation. Just like having to explain a joke makes it less funny, having to explain an anecdote kills the momentum of the article.
- Over-hyped statistics. “Ninety-nine percent of women hate men.” That’s a banger of an opening, but after the writer explains 99 percent of women said they hated men who kicked puppies and not all men in general, there’s going to be a large segment of readers ticked off.
Yellow Light – Speed bumps ahead
- Ledes that introduce a difficult concept. If a publication’s readership doesn’t have a firm grasp on the concept go easy on the jargon and take care not to hit the gas on information – slow down.
- Cutesy or goofy puns. When Katie Couric first began hosting the evening news I spent a month cringing at the plentiful puns peppered throughout the newscast. Oh sure my local news hams it up, but I expected more out the national news. Leave the puns for broadcasters unless the audience expects kitschy humor.
Green light – Open road
- A web article with a quick hook and quick delivery. The web isn’t for novelists or Sunday drivers, it’s the Super Highway designed for people who have a fixed destination and need to get there quick.
- A magazine article with an engaging, teasing lede. Magazine readers are invested in the article. They like to sit back and let the scenery unfold before them. Think of Christmas light tours with cars full people who have a lot of time if not the best attention span. Make it interesting so they’ll linger in front of the display.
Ledes are often the most difficult part of writing and article. Its success depends on those first few paragraphs. Get to the point in the lede and keep the reader for the long haul.
Got a suggestion or topic idea for Article Writing? Email me ([email protected]) and put “Article Writing” in the subject line.