An effective lead for a feature story uses specific, telling details to establish empathy and suspense starting with the story's very first sentence. Unlike the hard news lead, which summarizes the key details in the first couple of sentences, a feature lead shows the reader a snapshot so intriguing that she has to know more.
Finding Your Lead
The feature lead doesn't need to contain all the essential details in one quick blast, as a hard news lead does, but it does need to strike immediately at the heart of the story. Your anecdote, quote or scene-setting context needs to draw a straight line to what is most important. After you have done your interviewing, observation and background research, review your notes. Some writers find it helpful to take a walk, do some chores, or even get a good night's sleep and let the information percolate a little bit. Review everything you know about the situation and think about what aspect of the situation readers will react to on an emotional level.
Language of the Lead
Feature story leads must be accurate, relevant and engaging; there are a great many ways to fulfill those requirements. If your story is dramatic, punch up the drama with short, powerful sentences. If what's going on could be a scene out of a classic movie, say so. Use vivid, colorful language, cultural references, irony, or even a good pun if you can think of one and your subject matter isn't overly serious. Set the scene so vividly that the reader can smell it.
Writing Anecdotal Leads
An anecdotal lead tells a story within the story. If you're writing about new technology being introduced at a local school, you might start with a story about an individual student's reaction or a teacher telling his story about the problem the technology is intended to solve.
Using Conflict in Leads
A lead can set up the essential conflict of your story.
Some experts argue that today's children spend entirely too much time on the computer. But teachers at Smallville Middle School are embracing a decision to purchase I-Pads for every student, hoping that the students' fascination with the technology will lead them into new worlds of learning.
Lead Writing Tips and Pitfalls: Respect Your Story
If you have chosen the right material for your lead, it will flow naturally after three or four paragraphs into your nut graf, the paragraph in which you summarize the rest of the who, what, when, where and how of the story. If you find you are off on a tangent, you may have chosen the wrong lead. After you have written the rest of your story, look back at your lead and make sure it's detailed, engaging and not so gimmicky that the reader is distracted or annoyed.
- Columbia University: Journalism: News Reporting and Writing: The Lead
- CubReporters.org: Journalism Education: Leads
- University of Texas: University Interscholastic League: Journalism: Feature Leads
- Poynter.org: Media Innovation: The Power of Leads
- Bucks County Community College: Journalism at BCCC: Feature Leads vs. Hard News Leads
- Photo Credit Stefano Tinti/iStock/Getty Images
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