The List or Inventory: Another Effective Lead


Bangs manes bouffants beehives Beatle cap butter faces brush-on lashes decal eyes puffy sweaters French thrust bras flailing leather blue jeans stretch pants stretch jeans honeydew bottoms éclair shanks of elf boots ballerinas Knight slippers, hundreds of them, these flaming little buds, bobbing and screaming, rocketing around inside the Academy of Music Theater underneath that vast old moldering cherub of a dome up there—aren’t they supermarvelous!

“Aren’t that super-marvelous!” says Baby Jane, and then: “Hi, Isabel! Isabel! You want to sit backstage—with the Stones!”

The show hasn’t even started yet, the Rolling Stones aren’t even on the stage, the place is full of great shabby moldering dimness, and these flaming little buds.

From “The Girl of the Year” by Tom Wolfe in New York Magazine, 1964

The list works best when the items on it are unusual. The rapid-fire staccato pace of the list with unpredictable words and phrases surprises and pleases readers. Alliteration is often used as a kind of glue to bind the list together. The inventory is an old technique; Homer used it in the Iliad and the Odyssey, but it’s still highly effective. This is one of the techniques discussed in my fall Seattle writing class.