Writing – Leads and Features

There are an almost infinite number of ways to write a single story: different ways to start and end it, different things to emphasize, and different information to include or leave out. Below is a story about a Lincoln High School senior, Diana Elias, who was voted Homecoming Queen this year. The story was written by By Mara Klecker for Mosaic, and online magazine about Nebraska’s new American families produced by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at UNL.

If you were given the assignment, you might be tempted to write a generic informative story about how she felt, what she wore, maybe talk about how she liked the dance, what the decorations looked like, what songs were played, etc. But you would have missed the big thing, the rest of the story.

As we’ve discussed in watching Steve Hartman interviews, everyone has a story. That’s what we want to find. What was different or unique about this year? This person? This event?

If we can look at last year’s Homecoming story and plug in the names from this year and change the theme and dates and still have the same story, that’s not what we want. What’s the real story? What’s the interesting bit? What’s the angle?

[Angle: The point of the story. The reason we should read it. It’s the thing that makes it unique or interesting.]

This takes time and interviewing skill. You need to be a detective. If you ask simple questions, you’ll get simple answers. Instead, ask complex questions that require more of an answer. Ask questions that encourage the person to tell you a story rather than just give you  facts. This isn’t a True/False Quiz; it’s an Essay Question.


  1. Click on this link to get to the HomecomingPractice Folder.
  2. Add it to your Google Drive.
  3. Copy and paste the information below into a Google Doc (using the Advocate Copy Template) in your Advocate Folder.
  4. Title it: HomecomingPractice.Name
  5. Use the information below to write a story.
  6. Decide what is most important, and what should come first, last, etc.
    You don’t need to use all of the information, and you can add other information from somewhere else if you want to.
  7. You can also reword the information (but not the quotes).
  8. Write a Headline for the story, and include your Byline.
  9. When you are finished, Move the story to the HomecomingPractice folder in Google Docs.
  10. Print out the story, and put it in the In Box on my desk.




Two girls: Diana and Sawsan Elias – Sawsan is older
They lived in Sheikhan, Iraq.
Their mother doesn’t let them play outside of their yard, because she’s afraid.
She doesn’t tell the girls why.
They had to stay home for months from school because of bomb threats
They hear stories of girls being kidnapped and raped and tortured.
They cover the windows and watch the news on television.
Her mother dressed in a burqa and told the girls to stay silent so the passport office officials wouldn’t hear their Kurdish accent.
In 2003 a wounded man came to their house for help.
He had been attacked by the Taliban.
They were afraid to help him, because they thought they would be attacked also, because they were Yazidi.
They are Yazidi, too, and don’t want to draw the attention of the Taliban.
They speak Kurdish.
In 2009, they left their home in a tax and never came back.
They spent months in Turkey in dirty hotels and apartments.
12 years later, they live in Lincoln, Nebraska
Sawsan – “I miss Iraq.”  “The orange trees and my house, my friends. It was beautiful. I miss everything.”
Diana – “Not everything,” “In our country, I didn’t think I could be anything. But here. Here, I can be. I’m allowed to be.”
She volunteers at at Bryan Medical Center.
Her supervisor, MaryBeth Williams, said she’s “always smiling, always willing to help.” She is a member of the Young Women’s Leadership Council,
The council leader, Sarah Gentes, said she is a “motivated and involved leader.”
She is a youth cadet in the American Legion’s Law Enforcement Program.
She wants to study criminal justice degree and become Lincoln’s first Iraqi policewoman.
She is eager to help and to succeed.
She learned English at first from American cartoons like Tom and Jerry.
She was shy and only talked to her brother in school.
Lunch time was confusing, and she didn’t know what food to take.
They came to Sioux Falls, South Dakota first, then, seven months later, to Lincoln.
She went to Lincoln High School, she was more comfortable.
Other students welcomed her.
She joined clubs and volunteered.
She got involved and she started speaking in English.
She learned about the popular songs and movies and suddenly she realized she fit in.
The other students didn’t know her story.
She was crowned Homecoming Queen.
She wore a blue, velvet dress.
“They announced my name for queen and I was so happy,”
“I heard my name and saw the crown and, oh my god, I went crazy.”
Her sister says,“It was a big moment,” Sawsan says, reminding her of all of the “firsts” she represents.
She is the first English Language Learner student and the first Iraqi girl to become queen.
Diana  “I don’t know how it happened,” she says, still shaking her head. “But they voted for me. They chose me. And I was ‘Queen Diana.’”