Master Class grads nail the feature intro
Too many writers have married the inverted pyramid and made a lot of triangular babies. Problem is, the traditional news structure doesn’t work well with humans.
But at our Master the Art of the Storyteller Master Class in San Francisco in July, writers started flirting around with other structures.
Here are three of the results — and some ideas for how you can do transform your own leads from meh to masterpiece:
|Bring on the poster person. Heather Vana, manager of online communications and social media for PetSmart Charities, knows all about human (not to mention animal) interest.|
But in her “after” intro, she unpacks the terse newsy lead and shows us Tyler in action. Note the difference between “Tyler, 6” and Tyler’s role in the second draft.
|Kimberly and Bob Carcelli of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, wanted a diabetic alert dog for their son Tyler, 6.|
Tyler suffers from Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune problem where the body fails to produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Even on medication, blood sugar levels can drop dangerously low long before symptoms occur.
“When that happens, Tyler’s not able to think straight,” said Kimberly. “He’s just 6 and sometimes he ignores the signals and continues playing. We wanted a dog who could alert Tyler — and us in case Tyler becomes unresponsive.”
|When his diabetes symptoms flare up, six year old Tyler can’t think straight. That is, until a small black lab puppy paws at him.|
Tyler’s puppy companion, Pilot, is in training to become his diabetic alert dog. He’s such a standout student, so it’s hard to believe that Pilot was once homeless in a shelter in Glasgow, Kentucky. Until he boarded the PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’ vehicle.
|Avoid “yup” leads. Seventy years ago, the world was a very different place. Yup!|
Here, Mary Schneiter, internal communications manager for Constellation Brands, transforms a “yup” lead into a descriptive intro packed with concrete details.
Oh, how I love that abandoned sauerkraut plant and its lingering, pungent shadow. And “exorcised” seems like precisely the right verb here.
How can you transform your “yup” lead into a fascinating feature introduction?
|Seventy years ago, the world was a very different place. By September of 1945, World War II had ended and a new era was dawning. This was true not only on the global stage but within my own family as well.|
My father, Marvin Sands, was discharged from the United States Navy in December of that year, just shy of his 22nd birthday. And as that transformative year in history wound down, my father took steps that would transform his own life. He set on a new entrepreneurial path, taking the helm of Canandaigua Industries — a small bulk wine business in upstate New York. Little did he know how far his venture would someday come, evolving from a small business with just eight employees into a diversified global powerhouse. These are the humble beginnings of our collective story — of Constellation Brands.
|Without much more than a scarred wooden desk, an archaic adding machine and eight employees, my father, Marvin Sands, began a small wine business in upstate New York.|
He launched the company seventy years ago in an abandoned sauerkraut plant that still retained the lingering, pungent shadow of its previous occupant until that was exorcised by more heady aromas of grapes, sugar and oak. Back then, Marvin did not dream that from this modest start his venture would eventually grow into the total beverage alcohol company we know today as Constellation Brands.
|Show me one. It’s the Writing Rule Of One: Your readers care more about one person they know something about than they do about hundreds or thousands of nameless, faceless souls.|
Got thousands of at-risk college students? Choose one, as Debra Crawford, public information officer for Colorado Mountain College, does here.
Notice how this second approach softens the rest of the intro and makes it more compelling.
|Thousands of at-risk college students in rural Colorado will receive financial and academic support over the next five years, thanks to an expanded federal TRIO grant that will empower Colorado Mountain College to provide even more support services throughout its six-county district.|
College administrators learned recently that their previous $2.2 million Student Support Services grant, which serves students at the college’s three residential campuses, has been expanded to $4.3 million over the next five years. Up to 520 students will be able to benefit from an array of SSS offerings including supplemental grant aid, free tutoring, fluent academic plans, personal counseling and transfer and career assistance. Qualifying students attending nearly all of the college’s 11 locations in north-central Colorado can apply for SSS support.
|When Rae Carlin went back to school at the age of 52, she remembered one of the reasons she’d left high school at 15: math anxiety.|
But thanks to help she received from the Student Support Services program at Colorado Mountain College, she learned how to overcome that anxiety through testing preparation and the support of a great tutor, navigated a conflict with a professor and even got help to pay for books. And against the odds, last year she earned a certificate in medical assisting and now has a job at a local pharmacy.
Like Carlin, thousands of at-risk college students in rural Colorado will receive financial and academic support over the next five years, thanks to a new federal grant that will empower Colorado Mountain College to greatly expand support services throughout its six-county district.
So which of these leads would you rather read? And how can you use the feature-style story structure in your next piece?