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Writing leads and kickers

By Peter Schroeder
“Do you want to go fishing … or do you want to catch fish? There’s a big difference you know,” my guide at the fish camp inquired.
Fish aren’t the only things that can get hooked. Writers strive to create strong leads that will lure the reader with an enticing first sentence or two. When it’s done right, the reader feels impelled to read the next sentence (which is what I hope my introduction above does). But what about the end of the article, known as the kicker?
Often, articles simply fade away at the end, trailing off without any sense of conclusion. Other times a story has been told, but the writer continues to pile on words and flog the reader into near exhaustion. Alternatively, lazy writers take the easy way out and conclude with a quote, again a cheap way to wrap up the article.
The kicker deserves as much attention as the lead since it serves up the final comment that should make the story memorable. Think of it this way: while the lead drives the reader into the article, the kicker drives the story into the reader.
Rob Kaiser, the writing coach at the San Antonio News-Express newspaper, encourages writers to create a “rattlesnake kicker,” which he likens to a pair of size 12 cowboy boots powerful enough to kick a rattlesnake (remember, he’s a Texan). Since this final sentence provides the last contact between writer and reader, it should stride across the page with wallop.
Although it means violating the basic “less is more” rule, Kaiser says that sometimes the writer should add an extra word or two to maintain the rhythmic and lyrical flow of the conclusion. Another approach uses the kicker to go full circle, bringing the reader back to the lead.
Like this:
As we returned to the fishing lodge, the boat full of freshly caught salmon, our smiling guide summed up the day: “The best thing is that it’s Tuesday. Somehow, fishin’s more fun when you know that all your friends back home spent the day in the office while you were out on the water.”
Good catch? ◊
Peter Schroeder is a freelance writer and photographer. He specializes in recreational boating, cruising under sail, scuba diving, snow skiing, and worldwide adventure travel. A member since 2005, Schroeder hails from Seattle, Wa. Contact him at ptrschrdr@aol.com.
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