Struggling with how to start a story?
Forget the rules. Focus on the promise.
“By and large, using all 5 W’s (who, what, where, why, when) results in a really bulky sentence,” says retired Seattle Times reporter and writing instructor Jack Broom.
“You don’t want your first sentence to be bulky. You want it to be enticing, a promise of something to come.”
Avoid putting the name of an organization, exact dates, quotes, or more than 1 or 2 pieces of data into the first paragraph of your story. Instead, make your lede:
- Easy to understand
Some journalists are taught not to ask questions in a lede, but Jack often uses that style to involve readers in the story. Or you could have a hard news lede, just stating the facts. There’s a time and a place for everything.
“Do not rely on any one type of lede,” Jack says.
Above all, make readers curious. Once drafted, Jack suggests reading story starters out loud to test how they sound. Remove as many words as you can without harming the meaning. Then have someone else read it.
We found several promising ledes in May’s feature stories. Here are some of our favorites:
As a teenager planning to be a band teacher, Anna Viemeister couldn’t have imagined that a key piece of her future would be determined while singing opera at a karaoke sushi bar in New York City.
—Kathy Urspung, Northern Wasco PUD, Oregon
In a time of need for himself, Al Jenkins has maintained his focus on helping those in Northern California who have suffered devastating losses to wildfires.
—Craig Reed, Douglas Electric, Oregon
Hey partner, listen up: If you’re gonna drink at the Short Branch Saloon in the far-flung desert burg of Crystal, you best be forewarned that you gotta play by the rules. Ms. Kathy’s rules.
—John M. Glionna, Valley Electric, Nevada
First things first: I want to meet Ms. Kathy. I also want to meet the woman who sang opera in a sushi bar. And the hint of Al Jenkins’ heartbreak makes me want to learn more. Each one of these stories start with a promise, drawing us into the stories.
Have a lede you love?
Share it in the comments!
Need more story-starter tips?
This gem from our archives shares 4 different ways you can tempt readers to dive into your content.
Want to learn more about Jack?
Read what he learned over 39 years of reporting for The Seattle Times.