Nobody dumps Gatorade on the writing coaches at newspapers who try to help reporters turn out sparkling prose as the apocalypse looms. But Jack Hart, a former managing editor at the Oregonian, seems to have deserved that treatment.
Hart drew on decades of working with reporters for his exemplary A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work (Anchor, 304 pp., $13.95, paper), a book that seeks to demystify a dozen aspects of good writing — clarity, brevity, voice, color, structure, rhythm and more. And some of his advice would have no less value for bloggers, novelists and corporate memo-writers.
Take Hart’s section on “loser leads,” soporific first sentences that risk turning an entire story into a cliché. Dick Thein, a copyediting expert, compiled list of offenders, or emaciated beginnings that won’t help a post or short story or any more than a newspaper article.
Hart quotes some of them:
“The ‘good news, bad news’ lead:
“The good news is that online classes have begun. The bad news is that most students don’t have computers.
“The ‘that’s what’ lead:
“Some leads are easier to write than others. That’s what 15 reporters participating in an online seminar said Monday.
“The ‘thanks-to’ lead:
“Thanks to Bug Pagel, the supermarket chain considers customer convenience first and sales second.
“The one-word lead (variation of ‘that’s what’):
“That’s what most people think journalists are.
“The ‘I fooled you’ lead:
“Sex, drugs, and booze. That’s not what you’ll find in newsrooms today, said Kent Clark, managing editor of the Metropolis Daily Planet.”
A Writer’s Coach has ten pages on loser and other leads, and the rest of the book is similarly direct and useful. An excerpt from the introduction appears on the Anchor Books site.
What lead would you like to see journalists and bloggers lose?