By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How to write a lede

Thomas MacMillan writes in the New Haven Independent:

Michael Chaves was a “lumper”: He worked as a laborer for long-haul truckers and slept in their trailers. Dale Anderson was a lumper too. One night they were hanging out at a truck stop when Anderson, drunk, urinated on the spot where Chaves slept. They argued, and Chaves beat him to death with a bat.

That’s the story Chaves told to police in Phoenix, Arizona.

And that’s one hell of a good way to begin.

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  1. Parsimonious

    Sure this isn’t the first page from the next Spenser detective novel ?

  2. LFNeilson

    That is good. My formula is to just start writing. Sooner or later, you’ll write something that just jumps off the page. Use that and rework your story to fit.

    If you sit there hoping for inspiration for the perfect lede, you’ll never recognize it before it evaporates.

    Even if your lede isn’t perfect, you’ll have your story done. And done is better than none.

  3. CAvard

    Wow, what a start! I’ll remember that. Good catch.

  4. WhyZass

    I would have written it a little differently:

    It was a dark and stormy night on the mean streets of Zitville. Dale Anderson, a drunken lumper, peed on Michael Chaves, a slumbering lumper. Chaves retaliated by delivering Anderson a few lumps with a bat that suddenly appeared in the story. With a final blow, Anderson expired. The world had lost a lumper, and another lumper was facing a long stretch in the big house.

    Thats the way it goes in the gritty backwater of Zit-town, when a man uses another man as a urinal.

  5. Rick in Duxbury

    To gain some empathy, listen to Don White, the Poet Laureate of West Lynn. His “Lumperboy Records” has published his recording of “Second Chance Crew (The Lumper Song)” as well as “Fun with Unitarians”. Highly recommended.

  6. David Crook

    I know you aren’t fishing for great ledes, but when I saw your item I immediately remembered THIS great lede from a book by my friend Martha Groves of the LA Times and Rob Warden: “Murder Most Foul.” I don’t have my much loved copy handy, but I found the quote cited by another friend, Ron Berler, from the same book.

    You’re right…Mr. Chaves’s lede is one for the record books. but how about this by Clem Lame, Chicago Daily News, 1935?

    “This is the story of ‘Two-Gun Louie’ Alterie, one-time pugilist, one-time policeman, one-time robber, one-time lieutenant of Johnny Torrio and Dion O’Banion, erstwhile rancher and union business agent, and today the subject of a coroner’s inquest as to who shot him and why not sooner.”

    It doesn’t get better than that!

    David Crook
    WSJ Sunday

    • Dan Kennedy

      @David: That is a great lede. My all-time favorite, from Edna Buchanan: “Gary Robinson died hungry.” Explained here for the uninitiated.

  7. David Crook

    I remember that Trillin NYer piece. A gem.
    If you ever run across a copy of “Murder Most Foul,” I heartily recommend it. Good crime stories all–and and more great ledes than a pack of bloodhounds at a jail break.

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