Thursday, July 7, 2011

power outage creates _______(m)

In high school, I wrote for the newspaper.  One day, the nun who advised the newspaper staff gave us a lesson on how to write great headlines.  A good headline should meet the following criteria:

1. Short--get the job done in just 5 words or less!
2. Complete--the headline should sum up the whole story!
3. Compelling--make your reader want to know more!  Invite them in!

Now, you might say, "no kidding" and I would agree.  But the most important thing she taught me that day was:

4. Know your audience--hit your target!

Sister then went on to give an example about a fire in a school that forced the evacuation of the premises and resulted in significant damage which caused cancellation of school the following day as well.  No one was hurt.

What, she asked us, should our headline be?  I'll spare you the iterations but the winning headline--for a high school audience--was FIRE CAUSES SCHOOL CANCELLATION TOMORROW.  That, she said, would be music to every kid's ears.

With that as a backdrop, I invite you to write your own version of something that happened to my Cousin Patty last week.

On a clear, sunny day, with near-zero humidity or wind, a squirrel hit a nearby transformer, electrocuted himself and knocked out power in her house while taking down a couple of other houses as well.

Temperatures that day were over 80 degrees.  No lights.  No air conditioning.  No refrigeration. 

Meanwhile, two houses over, Uncle Tony was stuck mid-air in his powered LA-Z-BOY chair, unable to get down.  Thankfully, he had his cordless phone in his lap.  He had to call the fire department to rescue him.

The squirrel's carcass lay in the street, stinking up the premises and threatening to sicken the various cats, dogs and birds who came to sniff and snack on it.

So, class, what's your headline for this event?

The dead squirrel causing the power outage?  Uncle Tony being rescued  by the fire department?  The cat or dog or bird who got sick on the squirrel's rotting carcass?

If you are writing for my family, you must be food-centric.

Hence, the winning headline that day was "Power Outage Causes Eggplant Crisis."

Cousin Patty was beside herself that the eggplant she made and froze the week before was threatened by the lack of refrigeration.

Know your audience.

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