Summary Leads: The Quickest and Easiest Way to Open a Story


These leads allow you to get to the point of your story quickly and easily. The trick is to make them appealing as well. Writers using summary leads often employ wordplay or humor to liven them up.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens

“The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once famously observed that “Hell is other people.” And he worked from home. Imagine if he had been one of the millions of us who are forced to navigate the psychic minefields of the modern corporation.”

From a book review in the Wall Street Journal, 4/4/06 by Martin Kihn.

Normally, the milk of human kindness doesn’t leave a sour taste. Unless, that is, you happen to be a Northerner taking too big a gulp of Southern hospitality.

From the Wall Street Journal, 10/29/96, by Eleena De Lisser of which discusses the reception Northerner’s get when moving to the South.

This lead works because it puts a surprising twist on what normally would be a cliché (ie. the milk of human kindness). In this way, it intrigues and appeals to the reader, encouraging the reader to find out just what she means by all this. The second line introduces in summary fashion the subject of the story.

De Lisser then introduces a quote which backs up and further explains the lead:

“It’s the most irritating thing I can think of,” complains Diane Kuhn, an ex-New Yorker now living in Nashville, Tenn., referring to the South’s idea of highway hospitality. “Drivers will let 12 cars” enter their lane, she says. “I say you let one in. Maybe. If you’re in a good mood.”

Then De Lisser moves to the nut graph, which introduces the larger issue:

For the most part, the North these days can’t seem to get enough of the South–its music, its cooking, its John Grisham (of Oxford, Miss.) A lot of Northerners are coming on down.

She then goes on to explain that the Northerners don’t appreciate the social courtesies of Southerners. Such a topic would confound most newspaper journalists, but De Lisser handles it with deftness, humor and aplomb.

I’ll be discussing summary leads and other ways of opening a story in my fall writing class, Revising Your Life.