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Copy of Writing Narrative Leads

A minilesson on leads
by

Jeff Deighton

on 8 October 2013

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Transcript of Copy of Writing Narrative Leads

Narrative Leads
What is a lead?
It's the first word, sentence, paragraph, or passage that acts as a hook that draws the reader into the story and gives the reader a feel for what the story will be like.
Examples of Great Leads
They murdered him.

The Chocolate War -- Robert Cormier

What makes this an effective lead?
Let's look at another...
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

The Hunger Games -- Suzanne Collins

What makes this an effective lead?

Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered
with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.

Al Capone Does My Shirts -- Gennifer Choldenko

What makes this an effective lead?
It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.

Speak -- Laurie Halse Anderson

What makes this an effective lead?
My name is Peak. Yeah, I know: weird name. But you don't get to pick your name or your parents. (Or a lot of other things in life for that matter.) It could have been worse. My parents could have named me Glacier, or Abyss, or Crampon. I'm not kidding. According to my mom all those names were on the list.

Peak -- Roland Smith

What makes this an effective lead?
Let's look at one more...
On career day Lily visited her dad's work with him and discovered that he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.

Whales on Stilts -- M.T. Anderson
What do all these leads have in common?
Writing Your Own Lead
Let's look at the beginning of a story. Ask yourself: Does it pull me in as a reader?
It was a typical day at the end of June. My mom, dad, brother and I were at our camp on Rangeley Lake. We arrived the night before at 10:00, so it was dark when we got there and unpacked. We went straight to bed. The next morning, when I was eating breakfast, my dad started yelling for me from down at the dock at the top of his lungs. He said there was a car in the lake.
Pretty dull, huh? So how could the writer have begun his story? What kind of lead could he have used? Well, let's look at three different types of leads.
The Action Lead: A Character Doing Something

I gulped my milk, pushed away from the table, and bolted out of the kitchen, slamming the broken screen door behind me. I ran down to our dock as fast as my legs could carry me. My feet pounded on the old wood, hurrying me toward my dad's voice. "Scott!" he bellowed again.

"Coming, Dad!" I gasped. I couldn't see him yet -- just the sails of the boats that had been put out into lake for the day.
Dialogue: A Character or Characters Speaking

"Scott! Get down here on the double!" Dad bellowed. His voice sounded far away.

"Dad?" I hollered. "Where are you?" I squinted through the screen door but couldn't see him.

"I'm down on the dock. MOVE IT. You're not going to believe this," he replied.
Reaction: A Character Thinking

I couldn't imagine why my father was hollering for me at 7:00 in the morning. I thought about what I might have done to get him so riled. Had he found out about the way I talked to my mother the night before, when we got to camp and she asked me to unpack the car? Did he discover the fishing reel I broke last week? Before I could consider a third possibility, Dad's voice shattered my thoughts.

"Scott! Move it! You're not going to believe this!"
Open your indepedent reading book. What did the author do to launch the story? Did he or she move right into the action, begin with characters talking, or start the novel with a main character thinking or start it in some other way?
Some good advice...
When you begin your story, write several leads. Don't settle for the first thing you put on paper. Try to begin the story in different ways: with action, dialogue, or thinking. Find the lead that you really like -- chances are your readers will like it too.
Don't worry if a great lead doesn't come to you right away. Sometimes it takes a while. Just start writing -- you can always come back and decide what kind of lead you want. Sometimes it will come to you while writing! Don't let it bog you down!
Now that you know about leads and writing great leads, go create your own great lead!
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