Saturday, September 17, 2011

Annals of "that's what": It isn't official

What happens when you negate one of the Great Cliches? Do the skies darken and the rivers run backward if your lede says "Christmas didn't come early" or "it's not official" -- or, in the present case, "Dead! That's what the man wasn't when police found him"? Let's see.

This lede never should have been let out to play, much less (notwithstanding the Sentinel's obsession with promoting every menu change put forth by these chains) found its way to the 1A centerpiece. It confuses a cliche attributed to the walk-in fast-food trade -- "you want fries with that?" -- with the routines of the sit-down trade, and that can't end well. Thus it paints itself into a corner: It takes something that already isn't happening and tells us it won't be happening in the future. The drama can barely be contained.

"Put statements in positive form" is another Strunkenwhite-ism that's easy to deride from the ivory tower but worth keeping in mind for day-to-day writing. It doesn't mean we limit ourselves to writing about puppies, kittens and birthday cake. It means that in many, if not most, cases, your lede is going to get to the point more quickly and be more interesting if it talks about what is, rather than about what isn't.

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