I can show you how to make everyone that sees your article stop whatever they’re doing and read it from beginning to end. That, my friend, is a hook and that is what you need to use to start every fiction and nonfiction piece you write.
Your opening paragraph, and preferably your opening sentence, should hook the reader. You need to grab them by the throat and pull them into your writing.
Which of the following fiction paragraphs would grab your attention?
Jim was a man of average looks with an average build. He strolled down the sidewalk reading a newspaper. Soon he reached his house and walked up the steps to the front door. Turning the key in the lock he let himself in. He flicked the light switch, but nothing happened. A gunshot rang out, and he was dead.
“No,” a man screamed in the same instant that a gunshot rang out. A body tumbled out the front door and down the steps, making a series of thuds that sounded like a sack of potatoes falling down a flight of stairs. The body slammed into the sidewalk and sprawled in an expanding pool of blood.
Which of these following nonfiction paragraphs would grab your attention?
Doctors have found that 40% of people have chronic minor aches. Of these people 2% of them have a serious medical problem causing this pain.
Could your minor aches and pains be a sign of a life-threatening medical problem?
In today’s society people are always in a rush. There’s never enough time to do all of the things that need to be done. The time it takes to read your article or story is competing with work, chores around the house, school, kids, after school activities and maintaining a relationship with family members. For this reason you need to make your story more appealing, interesting and urgent than the other activities waiting in line for the reader.
There are several ways to do this.
- You can engage the reader with an urgent question, like I did in the sample paragraph above.
- You can also use a time limit. You can say, “In just a few moments,” or “the clock is running out.” These, or some similar statements, that enforce the idea that if you don’t act now something bad will happen or that you’ll miss some great opportunity. It makes the reader feel it’s essential to stop everything and read this now.
- You can make a statement that will attract the interest of a large segment of your target audience. Something like, do you have aches and pains, do you sometimes feel depressed or some other general type of statement.
For a fictional story it’s always a good idea to start with some kind of action, and a little mystery, that will make the reader want to know more. Many writers say that you should actually start a story with your third paragraph. I often do this with my writing. I write the story, but when I look at the first page I see that the story doesn’t really start until the second or third paragraph, or sometimes the second or third page. If that’s the case, then I just delete those uninteresting parts. Remember, anything that doesn’t move your story along is unnecessary.
You can’t write like they did at the turn of the century. Have you read the book Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson? It’s a wonderful book, but it’s not uncommon for the author to spend several pages explaining something that today would be done in a paragraph. I remember one place in the story where he uses three pages to describe the interior of a tiny hut.
Nonfiction is the same; you need more meat and less fluff. You want to use the core of your article, the most important point, and tease them with it in the first sentence or paragraph. Give them a reason to go deeper into your article. Make them feel that they have to read more to find the answer to some question you have posed or some possible threat they may be about to experience. For example, “Are you setting yourself up to be a victim of a violent crime?” You can also start with a story or example.
Of course, after you grab the reader’s interested you need to keep them engaged. Your writing must be tight and every word must move the story along. If you have started your article with a question, you must answer that question by the end of your article. And for fiction, be sure to wrap up all your story lines and have a resolution to everything. If you lure a reader into your work, but leave them unsatisfied at the end then nothing you do in the future will entice them to read anything else you write.
Focus on grabbing your reader, compel them to read more, and take them on a journey that they won’t want to end.