Wick Communications

The power of the lede

In Writing techniques on February 27, 2014 at 4:04 pm

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I suggest you stop what you are doing and take three minutes to read the first five graphs of this. It’s Caitlin Flanagan’s pitch-perfect story headlined, “The Dark Power of Fraternities.” One wag on Twitter called it the greatest lede ever. So go ahead. I’ll wait.

Pretty awesome, right? Here’s why it works: It uses real human beings to draw you in to a problem right in front of your face. It’s  a problem that you likely haven’t given much consideration, in this case the dangers of the frat house for colleges, pledges and even parents. It’s also funny, but I wouldn’t suggest you try that at home. We all think we are funny but few of us can put that belief in writing.

Flanagan’s tale is really interesting and really, really long. It’s been all over the blogosphere and Twitterverse and I even heard her talking about it on NPR. I haven’t really considered the liability for frat accidents nor thought much about how many rapes occur within the Greek system. And I might not be interested if she hadn’t taken me back to that warm spring night in 2011 when young Travis made an ill-considered decision.

Flanagan is pretty terrific. She clearly has all the time in the world and is a special phrase turner. (If you have a little more time, just read down to the first jump on this one. Her description of Alice Waters and her sycophants is pretty darn delicious.) For my money, few of her Atlantic ledes are as well done as the frat story. Too often the are fat graphs about the zeitgeist and devoid of actual people. They are very New York-y. Snarky, overly smart and a bit condescending. But when she hits the ball, it goes a long, long way.

And remember, if you start with a drunk guy about to do something stupid, you have something.

Clay

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