Adventures in Lede Writing, Or Don’t Try This At Home Folks, NY Times Sports Page Department
The first two paragraphs of today’s Times piece on the Boston Celtics victory over King James and his Cleveland court, presented uncut, for your edification:
When the Boston Celtics sputtered through the regular season, they were dismissed with descriptions appropriate for a high-mileage car. They were old, slow and unreliable.
They might have leaked leads often this season — particularly in the fourth quarter — but they are still effective in large doses, and Rajon Rondo, their point guard, remains a blur on the court and a pest to opponents.
Mix metaphors much?*
This blog is ostensibly about science, especially in its intersection with public life. It does a fair amount of politics/critique of political coverage (in which I try to nod, at least, at something informed by science defined pretty damn loosely). But every now and then the reader and writer in me just gets loose.
This is one of those times.
So, to recap: the Celtics are a malfunctioning car; they leak (which I suppose a car could do, but is something I associate more with boats and buckets), they are a drug, an optical illusion and must be very well dressed, for a key player is identified as quite gnatty. (Sorry.)
Oh FSM, is this bad writing.
Not only do the images collide into incoherence, the whole thing just doesn’t make sense. How does being a drug that is effective when consumed with Belushi-like incaution fix leaks? I mean, huh?
I know that sports pages have long been an incubator for self-consciously edge-teetering writing/writers. Some of the habits have infected other sections, some places (see, e.g., the metaphor happy stylings that shows up from time to time in Science Times.)
But while the play of images can truly transport a reader into the world of the story, you have to remember: you, the writer are the master and commander of that transport, and not the other way round. The author of the passage above had long since lost control of his charges. What you see there is what happens when the inmates (swarming one’s brain) take over the asylum.
Ah. That feels better.
*I know, I know. But I got my professional writing start at Time Inc., where not only backward reeled the sentences until boggled the mind, but alliteration alleviated that aggravations of the day. Sometimes the apple just doesn’t fall that far from its aboriginal arborial accomodations.
Don’t forget to tip the nice people bringing you drinks — and come back, y’all. I’ll be here all week.
Image: J. W. M. Turner, “The Fifth Plague of the Egyptians: The Plague (die Peste).” 1800. O.K.: I know it’s a reach. But I love Turner, and the title almost gets us there, and heck, it’s no more a non sequitur than anything in the original, so there. Plus, it’s my blog. Also.bad writing, Language Pleasures, Snark, Writing comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.