One of the most common mistakes that new writers make is to take ages to get to the point. When given a big word count, it’s very tempting to write a lengthy introduction full of clever metaphors to set the scene for your feature. This is a bad idea.
Yes, it’s important to draw your reader in but you do this by letting them know what they are going to be reading about early on, don’t confuse them and leave them feeling disappointed. You’re not an author penning a 480 page novel, you’re writing as a journalist. Two very different things.
This was my first attempt at a blog entry I wrote for the Guardian. It was for the careers section and supposed to be about what I’ve been getting up to in my journalism apprenticeship:
I’ve found myself remember one of my most disappointing memories recently. Midway through year 11 my Art GCSE portfolio was underway. One of my main pieces of work was an A3 collage, a huge picture made up of tiny squares of coloured paper. It took weeks of sticking every little piece down, I had glue stuck under my nails, in my hair and on my carpet for weeks but when it was finally completed I was so proud of my efforts.
Is this an article about GCSE’s? Art lessons? Ruined carpets? (crap…)
I left it to dry on my bedroom floor and went to school with my window slightly open. The collage was on the floor and when I arrived home that day a rainstorm has swung my attic window open. My soaking work of art was lying on the floor, all the colours had merged and it was completely ruined. I was absolutely devastated. All of my concentration, time and effort had equated to nothing.
Maybe it’s about disappointment? (more crap…)
The reason this has come back to haunt me is that I had a very similar experience last week. I was a chance to write an article that would be printed….
…I don’t care what it’s about anymore, it’s boring and I’m losing the will to live…(…crap.)
Compare this with the first paragraph of the published piece (after many edits):
Before I got my current job, I found out the hard way how cut-throat the journalism industry is. I’d tried and failed to get work experience at the BBC, Time Out magazine, Pop Justice (a music website), Heat magazine, Now magazine and my local paper.
OH. The article is about how cut-throat the journalism industry is. I love this paragraph. I hate the first attempt. Lesson learnt.
A few examples of good intros for features:
Belinda White for the Telegraph on the subject of a cure for ‘camel-toe’ (I have rearranged it a bit to make my point):
The problem of camel toe – it’s the fashion no-no which reared its ugly head with the birth of the catsuit and spread like an epidemic when leggings became the height of fashion. The unsightly effect achieved when a lady’s bottoms are impinging too much on her nether regions – has been solved by ‘SmoothGroove’ the latest weird and, er, wonderful wardrobe ‘essential’.
Mark Rice-Oxley writing for the Guardian: The truth about depression: six people speak out:
Depression is not picky. Men, women, rich, poor, white, black. No one is immune. It is not just an illness for people with dark, mysterious pasts or chaotic presents. It is ubiquitous. Empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests this is fast becoming the disease du jour. Antidepressant prescriptions have soared. The World Health Organisation warns that mental illness will be second only to HIV/Aids in the burden it places on the world by the end of this decade.
And finally my favourite. Pop Justice reviewing Madonna’s latest album:
We went to listen to Madonna’s ‘MDNA’ and after one listen decided that it was – as we tweeted – fucking amazing.
Straight. To. The. Point.