Rethinking ledes

You remember the inverted pyramid, right? Cram all the important stuff — who? what? when? where? into a couple flimsy paragraphs at the top of your story.

It works great in some situations, especially breaking news. But our next assignment is a written feature story, and we’re ditching the pyramid. The goal for your lede is to include enough contextual information to give readers a general sense of the plot, but to beef it up with anecdotes and adjectives that let your readers know they’re about to embark on an interesting story. (Then, of course, you have to deliver on that promise).

Consider these longform stories. I’ve pasted some ledes and excerpts below. How much information does the lede give away? What do you think the story is about? Are you hooked? What’s missing?

It’s important to remember that the who, what, where, when, why and and how are still essential to your story. But they should unfold naturally.

“Everyone who played Epic Mafia knew Eris, or at least knew of him. In real life, he was a 32-year-old computer programmer, who lived alone with his border collie in upstate New York, but in the tight-knit online gaming community of Epic Mafia, he was a celebrity, the impresario of the site’s many forums, constantly flirting, philosophising, gossiping. In the seven years since the site had launched, he had formed many intense friendships with people he had never met, but who had come to depend on him. Eris had the gift of easy intimacy. He asked real questions. He wanted to know you. And best of all, he was always right there when you needed him: online.” Death of a Troll

“What were the odds? There were so many chances for the accident not to occur—so many ways to break the chain that led to it—that a crash investigator later told me it seemed the Devil himself was at play. The men responsible were American pilots and Brazilian air-traffic controllers working the high-altitude jet routes above the Amazon basin in central Brazil.” The Devil at 37,000 feet

“Last June, a woman walking her dog on Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, came across a black plastic garbage bag on the beach. Inside was a very little girl, dead. The woman called for help and collapsed in tears. Police searched the island; divers searched the water; a medical examiner collected the body. The little girl had dark eyes and pale skin and long brown hair. She weighed thirty pounds. She was wearing white-and-black polka-dot pants. She was wrapped in a zebra-striped fleece blanket. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that no child matching her description had been reported missing. ‘Someone has to know who this child is,’ an official there said. But for a very long time no one did.” Baby Doe

“Then the kids on the play structure heard something strange. Across the park, a second ice cream truck turned off of River Road and started heading their way. The vehicle moved at a brisk pace, not the typical crawl of an ice cream truck. What’s more, its sound system blasted a repetitive, bubbly jingle, drowning out Joplin’s ragtime classic.” The Cold War

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