Let’s face it – a story either bounces off the page, or it doesn’t.
And yours needs to jump it’s way immediately into the canvas of your reader’s mind if you want them to stay with your narrative. It’s the only way to get traction and make it to the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature (or somewhere similarly spectacular).
There’s no question about it: you want a compelling intro for every piece you write. For the vast majority of readers aren’t going to wade through 50 pages of a book if they’re not hooked early.
Whether you’re an indie author, a copywriter, a training materials writer, a speech writer and so on, a solid intro is a non-negotiable element for effective writing.
So, how do you go about it? The following are three tips to ensure your readers keep reading beyond the first paragraph.
1. Focus on the first line and paragraph.
There is no surefire way to create a perfect opening line. In fact, a brilliant first line is entirely dependent on your specific story. Throughout literature, there are numerous examples of captivating first lines that take many shapes and forms.
However, within your first line and paragraph, there are some universal ideas for what will make it stand out.
- Invite the reader into your novel’s world.
- Show them instantly why they ought to be coming along on this ride with you and reassure them that the time they spend reading your words will be worth it.
- Your first line must be striking the kind of sentence that immediately beckons the reader into an image.
- It should be surprising, too.
- Use visions, lighting or tone to set the mood and clearly indicate what the rest of the pages have in store.
- Your first line should show that your characters have a unique voice. (Especially as an indie author, you want to be introducing your reader to characters who are compelling and individual. This should be manifested in the first sentence and paragraph.)
What your first line shouldn’t be? Well, (unless you are Charles Dickens), don’t write an incredibly long opening sentence as modern-day readers tend to stop being engaged with such.
2. Put your psychologist hat on.
As a writer, you have many different hats. But, one of the most crucial when it comes to writing something that hooks your reader is the psychologist’s hat. This is the headwear that is going to allow you to create alluring initial lines.
To get your reader to keep going past your first paragraph, you have to persuade them that your words are for him or her. To do this, you have to sneak into the minds of your readers and know precisely what they’re grappling with – their feelings of disappointment, despair, and desperation, or of desire, anticipation, and belief.
You have to think like a psychologist to figure out what reason you can give your readers to pay attention to your words instead of everything else out there they could be occupied with.
3. Utilize drama.
In order to keep readers hooked on your words, you may need to add a little bit of drama in your piece. No matter what you are writing, whether it is business sales pages, travel blog posts, indie novels, or you are a website content writer, a little drama will ensure the words and ideas of your opening lines are engaging.
- Use one-sentence cliffhangers to ensure your reader’s curiosity is peaked. This, in turn, will encourage them to keep digesting your words. Maybe you are proposing a captivating question, stimulating interest, making a promise, or throwing them into an emotional experience that they have no choice but to wonder about.
- Start at a pivotal moment in the story. This way, the reader has no choice but to keep on turning the page to discover what comes next.
- Guarantee a gratifying conclusion. Do so by releasing enticing hints along the way. This ensures readers remain on the path moving toward that finish.
- Know what will cause your audience stop reading. By far, the most common way to turn readers off is by making a meaningless statement or providing irrelevant information and excessive description.
- Keep the first few lines filled with solely important information. While some description is necessary, it is far better to have a small amount of compelling description than a bunch of long-winded adjectives.
- Similarly, don’t bombard the reader with too many characters at once. Preferably, introduce them to one or two that they can immediately start to build a relationship with.
That being said, don’t struggle with your opening when you are getting started with the writing process. Instead, remember that the purpose of your first draft is to get your story down and is not the moment to be perfectionistic about your beginning (that anguish can occur later!).
There is a small chance your opening sentence and paragraph will remain as you wrote it. However, there is more of a chance that you find your perfect beginning at the end of the writing process when you have worked through and can then see the entire narrative of your book.
Hisham Wyne is an award-winning copywriter, brand consultant and content creator based in Dubai. He has over a decade’s experience in helping brands get their messages right. From crisp web copy and zippy brochures to in-depth company profiles and analytical annual reports, Hisham makes words work for you – so you can sell better, gain visibility, and give your brand a unique voice.