Can anecdotal leads be over done?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

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Dear Coach,

I’m falling into the habit of writing nothing but anecdotal leads. I’m not the only one. Our news pages are full of stories written by writers forever stretching their legs out under roll-top desks, surveying lush gardens and other trivial activities. What’s going on?¬†–Habitual Hannah

Dear Habit,

We call them anecdotal leads. But often, they are not technically anecdotes — just weak descriptions of non-activities that only succeed at irritating readers. They can often serve to mask other problems, like not having a clear story focus.

Sit down and ask yourself: Do I use a narrative, anecdotal or otherwise delayed lead only when it is vital to the story? What role does the lead play in the story as a whole? How does it illustrate what the story’s really about?

If any of your answers is, “Well, gee, I don’t know if it … like, you know,” then get rid of the lead.

If the lead includes children scampering nearby, underfoot or anywhere else, get rid of it. Scampering children usually signify that it is a wash-‘n’-wear lead that could go on any story that has to do with people.

What is the story about? If you can answer that before you write, then the lead (and the story) won’t be pointless.


Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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