We’ve been working on the inverted pyramid this week in class, so as a treat for those of you who might have missed this a few years back, I dug up one of my favorite examples of why the inverted pyramid works well in storytelling.
Cops set nude man on fire, see paragraph 11 (or why you should use the inverted pyramid better)
Oddity is one of the five interest elements we discuss at length in the “Dynamics” series. If people can say, “Did you READ THAT? WOW!” you have a winner. In short, embrace the weird. Consider this lead:
MANITOWOC – Police officers arrested a 32-year-old Manitowoc man Sunday evening for standing in the street without any clothes on.
Public nudity isn’t normal, but it isn’t that odd, either. Here are links to several “public nudity arrest” stories run over the past month or two. Also, the lead here in noun-verb-object order is “Police arrest man.” Not exactly compelling… but keep reading…
Officers found Travis L. Tingler in the 1100 block of South 25th Street near Hamilton Street, where he was shouting toward a home at the intersection that he had a knife and was going to gut people in the house.
Police talked to a girl, who was holding a baby, in the home. She said Tingler was dating her mother and they had lived in the home for about two years. She said he started drinking alcohol three hours earlier and started to act weird, making comments such as “Stay in the light and never come into the dark.”
Getting weirder… Hang in there…
Paragraphs 11 and 12:
Police reported Tingler somehow picked up a lighter during the struggle, and when the stun gun probe hit the lighter, a combination of lighter fluid and electricity from the stun gun caused Tingler’s beard and chest hair to catch fire. (Emphasis added)
An officer tried to pat the fire off his body, and Tingler continued to fight even after the fire was put out. He then punched an officer in the face. An officer used a stun gun on him from about 6 feet away, and he then fell and hit his head hard on the pavement.
As the person who forwarded this to me put it: “They set him on fire and you don’t find out for 11 grafs. 11!!!”
If you read the whole story, you find that the headline does mention this, but headlines aren’t there to bail out bad writing. You also find out that the reason this story has this problem is the reporter wrote it chronologically instead of relying on the inverted pyramid.
Very rarely will I say this, but sometimes being arrested naked isn’t the biggest part of the story.
h/t Alex Nemec
UPDATE: Apparently, the paper got the date wrong, so during the “rewrite” of this to fix that problem, they updated the lead:
MANITOWOC – Police officers arrested a 32-year-old Manitowoc man Friday evening for standing in the street without any clothes on. In the process, they accidentally set him on fire.
Not great, but at least they got there…