Hansel and Gretel

Once you've grabbed your readers' attention with a strong lead and forceful nut graf, your task becomes maintaining their interest throughout the rest of your story. How do you do this? By packing in solidly reported information and interesting word choices, of course, but perhaps also by using a technique that some writers refer to as “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.”

The reference comes from the classic Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, in which two children leave themselves a trail of breadcrumbs in the woods so that they can find their way back home. The idea as it relates to writing is that you can leave readers a trail of breadcrumbs to follow to the end of your magazine article, only instead of actual breadcrumbs, you use things such as quotes and clues.

Using Quotes

When you're writing about interesting people who provide you with good quotes, you can almost always use those quotes as your breadcrumbs. Readers who are intrigued by a person you are profiling will start to wonder, “What the heck will this guy say next?” That's exactly what you want them to be thinking — because it means they will keep turning the magazine's pages and following your article to the end to find out.

The trick for you, as a writer, is to spread the subject's best quotes throughout the article instead of bunching them all up in your lead and your ending. A lot of magazine writers fall into this trap, and it's unfortunate, because if all the good quotes are at the beginning and the end of an article, most readers will stop somewhere in the middle and never even get to the big finale.

Don't assume that terrific quotes can act as breadcrumbs on their own. You must lead the reader to each quote along a logical path, keeping each quote in context and ensuring the reader understands why it is so great. Think of your best quotes as exclamation points and the writing you do in between them as the heart of sentences.

Using Clues

If your subject matter doesn't lend itself to using quotes as breadcrumbs, then you might be able to use the same philosophy as it applies to basic information. For instance, if you are writing about a scientific discovery, then you can literally leave clues throughout your article for the reader to follow along, as if solving a mystery.

Perhaps you start with a lab worker seeing something unusual in a Petri dish. A few paragraphs later, you describe how the lab worker is conducting tests to figure out the dish's contents. A few paragraphs later, you can say the worker got the results and was surprised, all leading up to your big ending where the worker reveals his scientific discovery. Again, the idea is to keep the reader going along with you until your article ends. Whether your breadcrumbs are clues or quotes, you can mark the trail to be followed.

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