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LEAD Me Home: Common Types of Leads

by Julia A. Keirns

An editor once stated at a writing seminar I attended, "When I get to my desk in the morning, a huge pile of submissions is always staring me in the face. My first thought as I open each one is to find a reason to say NO as quickly as possible so I can get through the pile quicker. I put myself in rejection mode and only the best leads are going to push my acceptance button."

So how do we as writers need to start our articles and stories? With a great lead. The first words to come out of our pen better be great ones. A great lead is vital to the life of our article. Without it, it will die a slow and inevitable death. No one will even attempt to read it to the end. A boring beginning will kill its chance to even get read. We have to get the editor to read past the first paragraph and into the second. We must grab his attention and make him say "Wow!" It is our job to get that editor out of his rejection mode.

Since a boring lead dooms an article to death, we must develop the skill of creating great leads. We need to keep searching until we find the perfect one. And if it seems mediocre then just keep digging. If we can grab the editor, then we will also grab the reader, in a way that won't let them look away. We need to be clear, on the mark, and understood right off the bat. Great articles have great leads. 

So, what is a great lead? In the book "Writing Articles About the World Around You," writer Marcia Yudkin narrowed down the most common types of leads to the following twenty.

1. Anecdote - this is a short, vivid, dramatic story filled with enough details to get any article off to a great start.

2. Scene - beginning with a specific moment in time.

3. Surprising fact - this is a fact that is not common knowledge. Something that will snap any editor to attention. 

4. Huh? - this is beginning with a zinger that requires some explanation to get his attention. 

5. Alert - this is almost like a huh, but it makes one specific point or direct connection to the reader, like when you warn the reader of a specific danger that they wouldn't normally think about.

6. Accepted Fact - this is something that people have already heard, and know to be true. The editor will wonder what different approach you might have.

7. Juxtaposition - placing two conflicting facts side by side to create tension. This forces him to read on.

8. Then and now - also two conflicting facts, except in the form of a past and a present. 

9. Fantasy - this is a word picture the editor knows cannot possibly be true. He will be compelled to read on to find out what you are going to do with it. Do not disappoint him.

10. Generalization - this is a normal statement that few people will disagree with. But then you need to immediately get more specific.

11. Quotation - leading off with something someone famous has said and applying it to your point.

12. Quote - The fresh words of someone alive whom you actually talked to or interviewed. This produces the effect of real life captured on the page.

13. Question - asking the reader if they ever wondered? But it better be an interesting enough question to make the editor want to know the answer.

14. Hypothesis - this presents a "what if" scenario.

15. We - using a general statement that involves everyone can establish common ground with the editor.

16. You - posing a position directly to the reader that they can identify with.

17. Description - this is a verbal sketch of the appearance of a person, place or thing.

18. Reminiscence - recounting something that happened to you in the past.

19. Take off on a current saying - scouring your memory for a jingle, phrase, or slogan you can tinker with.

20. Definition - this is self-explanatory and is probably the weakest of all leads. Try not to do it because you might send your readers and the editor into sleepyland.

Like that editor said in the writing seminar I attended, you have to grab the editors attention and make him say, "Hey, now here is a great article!" Get him out of his rejection mode. Push his acceptance button. He probably just wants to keep on rejecting because it is easier than accepting. It is your job to make him want to go through all the trouble of contracts and paperwork because your article is just too good to pass up.

Now go write some great leads.