NB: This is a simplified version of a section of content from my upcoming book – Write Better Now. Enter your email address if you’d like to find out more (I won’t spam you. Promise.)
First of all, I’ll address the “who the hell do I think I am” part.
I’m an author and ex-journalist from Australia who wrote for and edited others’ work in some of the country’s biggest-selling magazines, newspapers and books for more than 15 years. If this post helps some people, I may turn it into a series. Let me know in the comments if you like that idea.
We all know why we need to start any piece of writing well. Attention spans are getting shorter, time is getting more precious. If you’re trying to sell your work, you don’t have long to make an impression. If you’re lucky enough to get your work in front of a new reader, or an editor, or a publisher or agent, you want to make the opportunity count.
These styles will work for fiction or non-fiction, feature writing, some marketing writing and even some news.
1. The Splash
His eyes were still open when the bullet exited his skull but they were lifeless, incapable of comprehending the mess his brain made on the wall.
Start with a bang (maybe not always literally, like I have here). Leave out the build-up – you can flash back to that later. You’ve got to grab the reader, so start with an action, a revelation or a secret. And make it short. It has more punch that way.
2. The Bizarre
Everyone knew that to wink right out of existence, all you needed was a bunch of the right herbs and a brand new FNamic 3000.
What-the? This is a variation of the splash. Keep in mind, using this method you don’t want to explain the first paragraph, you only need to make it intriguing, but coherent enough that the reader expects that they will get some answers later.
3. The Quote
“You know when you kill one, it’s polite to eat it,” she said, waving her hand at the gunsmoke drifting past her face.
Another variation on the Splash. Who wouldn’t read on? This time our frame of reference is the second person. The quote has the added advantage of introducing character – at least two, usually. Unless you’re using the …
4. Address the reader
Would you call the police if you found a suitcase full of gold bullion in an abandoned warehouse? Millions wouldn’t. Dave Parsons wanted to, but didn’t. Had he been able to get a signal on his mobile phone that night, he may still be alive to tell us how it all went down.
Ironically, this isn’t a quote, but it can be – a character can deliver this if you want. You’re capturing attention by directly involving the reading. You’re effectively trying to pull them into the story, and you’ll do just that if you execute this well.
5. The Negative
The highest high achievers normally come from privileged backgrounds, the brownstones, the Park Avenue buildings with large men in uniforms at the door around the clock.
Tell us what didn’t happen, what wasn’t going on. Turning things on their head will usually capture attention too.
6. The Foreboding
Later, when there were still authorities left to try to piece things together, it was hard for them to find the source of the infestation.
This is a variation on the negative, but adds the implication of a passage of time, and usually a character or an action or both.
7. The Short
In my cubicle.
This is obviously the punchiest start method you can use, usually reserved for an initial event, burst of action or a revelation. Make, sure, if you’re going to go short, go really short. I wouldn’t try this method with more than three-word “sentences”.
So try some of these, especially ones that you haven’t tried before. Sure, there are plenty more, but these are some of the simplest and many of the others are just variations of these.
The theme? Grab attention any way you can. Avoid the expected. Hook the reader.
What other methods do you use? Let me know in the comments.
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