In Need of a Lede? Tweet about It

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

It all started with a Tweet.

I was at work, struggling to come up with a lede for one of my short stories about an art fair. My editor happened to be away from his desk so, in need of some inspiration, I Tweeted: “Having one of those ‘ugh, I just need to write this lede and then I can sail through this story’ type of moments.” I got five responses, including one from Steve Buttry, the editor of The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette. He Tweeted me a link to a handout he put together for a writing workshop in 2002. The handout is a wonderful resource for those who need some inspiration or a reminder about what works, and doesn’t work, in ledes. I especially like the following tips:

1.) Avoid the blank screen.

2.) Identify the emotion.

3.) Tell your story in three words.

4.) Challenge prepositions and conjunctions.

5.) Punch quickly.

6.) Tell someone about your story.

After reading Buttry’s handout, I eventually came up with a lede. I find that writing ledes is often the most difficult part about telling stories. I often spend more time than I need to crafting a lede, which prevents me from delving into the actual story. Maybe sometimes it’s better to just write the rest of the story and then let the lede write itself.

Amy Gahran, editor of The Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits, suggested as much in her response to my Tweet. “I find I write my best ledes when I leave them for last,” she Tweeted. “YMMV, of course.” (YYMV stands for “your method may vary.” When you only have 140 characters to express your thoughts, you start to learn all sorts of acronyms.) Normally, this method doesn’t work for me, but I tried it out on the art fair story and found it to be successful. What method works best for you when writing ledes?

Still scratching your head, wondering what a Tweet is? I wrote some articles about Twitter last year that may be of help:

“Newsies Twittering on Twitter” and “Experimenting with Twitter: How Newsrooms Are Using It to Reach More Users.”