The Junk Drawer: Leads that break the rules, Cocaine for Kids and more…

As we noted in an earlier post, the Junk Drawer is usually full of stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else but you still need, so let’s enjoy a few of the more awkward moments sent in by the hivemind and other friends out there:


One of the rules I’ve emphasized to writers about leads is to not start them with a time element, like, “On Monday, the Board of Regents raised tuition 35 percent…” The point I try to make is that if the most important thing you want to tell me in the most important sentence of your story is WHEN something happened, you probably don’t have much of a story to tell.

Here’s a clear exception to that rule in a piece the NY Times ran about a mass exodus at Deadspin:

On Monday, the journalists at the freewheeling website Deadspin were instructed by its owners to stick to sports. On Tuesday, the site’s interim editor in chief, Barry Petchesky, was fired for refusing to obey that order. On Wednesday many longtime staff members quit in protest, hurling Deadspin into chaos.

It’s a multi-sentence lead in which every sentence starts with a time element. Here are a few reasons why it works:

  • The writer establishes a pattern of cadence, relying on the repetition of the time element to keep the attention of the readers.
  • The rapid-fire series of events that occurred in a 72-hour period lends itself to pressing the issue of time in the lead.
  • The writer doesn’t overdo it. The old “rule of threes” applies well here, in that things that occur in threes tend to keep our attention and are “mentally pleasant” for audience members. Had this gone on for a few more sentences, the technique would have failed.

As we have noted about all the rules of the game: Once you know them well enough, and you earn the fungus on your shower shoes, you can break them if you do so for the right reason. Go ahead and try something different, but if it doesn’t work, feel free to go back to an inverted pyramid style lead.



A friend sent me this headline, noting the word choice and the bad head break:

College Blow

For those of you tea-totalers out there, “blow” is an oft-used euphemism for cocaine. Even given the liberal reputation of the West Coasters, I don’t think this is what they meant.

You need to watch those word choices for headlines. In this case, it was a web head, so there was no good reason not to write out a deeper and clearer headline. In print, occasionally, the space allocated to the headline gets you into trouble:


I’ve worried about my mortgage from time to time, but I’m not sure I’d take a bullet in exchange for saving some cash. It sounds like how the rich people work in “The Purge” or something.


Rental Shirt

How long do I get to rent this shirt for $3? How many bedrooms does it have?


We already know that commas save lives…


And we know that they can keep you away from promiscuous buccaneers…



But a friend sent me a conundrum of hyphenation necessary to distinguish zombie-apocalypse gourds from vegan tree-rodents:


I’m really hoping it’s the former. I can see the movie posters already…

That’s all for now!


(a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)


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