Writing strong introductions will keep your readers reading, your articles selling, and your accountant happy (ah, if only freelance writers could afford accountants!). These tips for writing introductions that grab your reader by the throat will help you keep your readers reading.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Other [writers] find excuses for not writing at the same time every day, balk at re-revising incessantly, or excuse themselves because their lives are beset by difficulty,” writes Sol Stein in Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies (an excellent book for writers). “I am deaf to that excuse because I worked with the most disadvantaged writer in history, Christy Brown, who had the use of his brain, the little toe on his left foot, and little else.”
Can you imagine writing with your little toe? Stein goes on to say: “I published five of Christy Brown’s books, one of which made the national bestseller lists. I urge you to see the video of a remarkable film called My Left Foot. It won an Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Christy. The film may cure you of fishing for an excuse for not writing.”
And you thought writing a strong introduction was tough…can you imagine writing a strong introduction with your left toe? Stein offers lots of writing inspiration and instruction in Stein on Writing.
And, here are five tips for writing better, stronger introductions…
5 Tips for Writing a Strong Introduction
These examples are from Stein on Writing (except for the Maclean’s example).
1. Connect two things that don’t belong together
A paradox or puzzling phenomenon can keep your readers reading — but writing an introduction that contains two wildly opposing elements requires a little creativity! Here’s an example of an introduction that could grab readers by the throat.
- Here’s an introduction that joins two contrasting elements: “Writers are troublemakers. A psychotherapist tries to relieve stress, strain, and pressure. Writers are not psychotherapists. Their job is to give readers stress, strain, and pressure.”
2. Make the reader curious (a fabulously strong introduction!)
Make your reader wonder who, what, when, why, where, and how. You don’t have to ask a question, but you can hook readers by forcing them to read beyond the first sentences. Make them desperate to keep reading!
- Here’s an introduction that makes the reader curious: “Oh no, not another shoe,” Sharon Bennett remembers telling her husband, Michael.” (Maclean’s, “Mystery Afoot,” July 7, 2008). This article is about severed feet that keep getting washed up on the shores of British Columbia. “If it’s normal for feet to wash up, shouldn’t it happen all the time?”
3. Add a visual element to your introduction
“A visual element can almost always be introduced to perk up a lead. This one conveys the attitude of the person without the cliché of ‘maintaining his innocence,'” writes Stein in Stein on Writing. How do you write an introduction with a visual element? Visit the scene of the “crime.”
- Here’s an introduction with a visual element: “Carl Gardhof, his head held high as if he had done nothing wrong, was sentenced in Superior Court to eighteen months in jail this morning for stealing a Bible.” This example of a writing lead also incorporates the element of curiosity! Why would Gardhof be jailed for stealing a Bible? Who’d he steal it from?
4. Focus on one individual – it will grab your reader
This type of lead gives readers a glimpse into other people’s lives. But it can’t just be any old life, it has to be something that makes readers sit up and take note. Here’s an example of an introduction that could grab some readers.
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- Here’s an introduction that focuses on an individual: “Since learning last year that he had multiple sclerosis, Andy Torok has become less and less steady on his feet, and his worries have accumulated along with the hand prints on his apartment’s white walls.”
Related to this is expressive or emotional writing. For tips, read 5 Ways to Write With Emotion and Hook Readers.
5. Portray the individual doing or saying something
This type of lead is an extension of the introduction that focuses on an individual. Now you’ve got the character performing an action – or maybe even getting ready for some action to happen to her.
- Here’s an introduction with someone performing an action: “It is nearly 10 p.m., and the toll taker at the Triborough Bridge’s Manhatten Plaza is near the end of her shift. Her routine is methodological, icily efficient. She glances out the window to see the kind and size of vehicle approaching….”
Other types of writing leads that hook readers:
- Dramatic examples
- Strong emotions
Writing a great introduction is my biggest challenge. I find writing the conclusion much easier; there’s usually a quotation or connection to the beginning that works to tie it all together nicely. 🙂
To learn more, read Writing Techniques That Make Words Come Alive.
Fellow scribes, do you have questions or thoughts on for writing strong introductions and grabbing readers by the throat? Comments welcome…