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If you want to remember how to write a catchy lead, just make a note of this quote: “Move the monkeys to the top.” That’s the advice Travel Editor, Kyle Wagner, gave one of our participants in Seoul, South Korea earlier this month when we were traveling with her on a writing expedition. “Cargo is anything and everything you can imagine…” is what the writer originally wrote in her article about watching the ships load and unload at Paoteor in Indonesia.  But when Kyle questioned her about more specifics, we learned that the cargo carried everything from fresh fruit to live chickens, motorcycles, and monkeys in cages – which painted a much more interesting picture. “Move those monkeys up to the top,” Kyle said.  And don’t just say there was “music and crowds of people” because that could mean Rastafarians and Reggae music…  teenagers and modern rock bands… young boys with pants belted mid-thigh and rap music. As Jen Stevens, the creator of our Ultimate Travel Writer’s program and the architect of our Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop puts it, “You get a lot more mileage out of specifics. One precise, well-chosen detail can take the place of two sentences worth of fluff. So take good notes. Document those specifics. And then let them inform your descriptions – and your stories as a whole. If something struck you as extraordinary – those monkeys, maybe, in this case – let them lead. Put your best stuff first. Let the reader see what you saw.” Here’s what you do… (This advice came from a copywriting friend of mine, John Forde.) Use The Rule of Thumb.  It works like this… Print your article on a piece of paper and place your thumb about half way down the page.  If the most interesting part of your story isn’t above your thumb, cut your copy until it is. As Jen puts it… “Spend time on your lead – as much as 80% of the time you spend writing. Your biggest challenge is to get a reader to take notice of your article. It might be really well written. You might have extraordinary descriptions and compelling, revealing ideas packed into it. But if they’re down low and the front of your piece is slow… nobody will ever get to the good stuff. “So put your best material up top. Come out and wow me. What if I asked you to tell me the one, most amazing, arresting, funny, or unusual thing about the place you’re focused on… the one thing you really think of first when you think about your experience in a place? What would that one thing be? That should be in your lead.” Share on Facebook

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