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Friday, July 31, 2009

Crafting Nonfiction Articles: How to Begin

Writing nonfiction articles can be just as much a creative process as crafting a short story or a poem. I've been thinking about this fact a lot lately because of my news correspondent job at The News-Gazette in Champaign/Urbana, IL. I've recently been writing some "Home and Garden" type articles, and I've had a lot of trouble with my ledes.

With the first article, I was writing about a neighborhood garden, and I wanted to focus on the fact that the gardener had pretty much started with a yard full of grass and a few trees, and she has turned it into so many different gardens that she hardly does any mowing. But I was all over the place with my beginning. I started with a statement from the gardener. Then I started with a bit of her history, and finally, I decided I needed to just start with her story. Ten years ago, she had a yard full of grass, and now she has yards full of gardens and hardly has to mow. Simple, easy, and right to the point.

In my other recent experience, I was writing an article about a man who has several antique cars and a yard barn made to look like a 1960s Shell gas station. I turned the article into my editor, and she wrote back and said, "I encourage you to have a little more fun with your lede. Be more descriptive." Yes, yes, she was so write. So, I rewrote it and played on the gas station/car theme, saying things like, "The 1963 gas station pump parks itself in front of the gas station," and so on.

So, what am I learning about ledes and beginning of articles? I need to go ahead and write the whole article, starting in any way I can--not spend too much time on it in the beginning. But then I need to go back and rewrite and rework my beginnings because ledes are not my strong point. I also need to remebmer the focus of the article and the purpose of the lede: 1. to catch a reader's attention, so he will keep reading 2. introduce the article 3. set the mood, tone, and voice.

I can also look at how other writers have started articles for that same publication, and maybe get some ideas from them. All writers have strengths and weaknesses, and there are some amazing writers out there who are so creative with their ledes for NONFICTION! To me, it takes creativity to begin an article and do all three things mentioned above.

So, do you have trouble with ledes or article beginnings? Know any tricks you can share?

Happy writing!
Margo Dill

photo by Annie Mole

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