Issue #36, 2009

First Lede, Real Lead

In textbook journalism, the lede covers the famous Five W's—who, what, when, where and why (and sometimes how). In creative nonfiction, the lede functions somewhat differently. Because the primary purpose is not so much to communicate quickly the basic information of a story as it is to draw readers in, the beginning of a story may not capture the Five W's; often, some of the answers to those essential questions are purposely held back to enhance suspense and to allow the narrative to develop more organically.

The lede also has a more complex function for the writer; it tells the writer where to take the reader and when to introduce ideas, themes and characters. The lede, in other words, leads. It gets the writer going and fuels momentum.

While revising, however, the writer usually has to return to the beginning of the piece and decide whether the first lede is still necessary. Often it is not; the first lede was just a tool or triggering device that allowed the writer to get to the "real lead."

During the editing process for this issue, with the permission of the writers, we eliminated the original beginnings of three essays and started them a few paragraphs or pages later. Our goal was to make the beginnings more immediate, to eliminate some writerly throat-clearing, to help plunge readers into the heart of the story--the action, the theme, the substance--from the very beginning.

Did these changes, in fact, make the stories more effective? And what, if anything, was lost in the editing process?

Table of Contents

FROM THE EDITOR Lee Gutkind ... read more
A Mapmaker's Error Howard Mansfield
Reclamation Carrie Seymour
Anechoic Ashley Butler
The Path and Pull of the Moon Paul Bogard
Blood and Treasure Maria Hummel
Crossing the Threshold Claire McQuerry
Pod City Anjali Sachdeva
KEEPING IT REAL: Thoughts about the Art, Craft, and Business of Writing Creative Nonfiction


Paul Bogard

Paul Bogard watches the moon from the edge of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin for most of the year and from New Mexico, Nevada and... read more

Ashley Butler

Ashley Butler lives in Texas. "Anechoic" will be included in "Dear Sound of Footstep," forthcoming from Sarabande Books in October 2009. read more

Maria Hummel

Maria Hummel's essays and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in The Believer, Literary Mama, Ploughshares and New England Review... read more

Howard Mansfield

Howard Mansfield is the author of five books, including The Bones of the Earth, In the Memory House, and The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration... read more

Claire McQuerry

Claire McQuerry teaches writing classes at Arizona State University and writes poetry for patients at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz... read more

Laurie Rachkus Uttich

Laurie Rachkus Uttich is a Master of Fine Arts student in creative writing at the University of Central Florida. She won the 2006 So to... read more

Anjali Sachdeva

Anjali Sachdeva teaches English and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her work... read more

Carrie Seymour

Carrie Seymour farms and writes on a fruit orchard in southeastern Idaho and teaches English at Boise State University. Every Thursday... read more