Grab Your Reader by the Throat – Write a Strong Introduction

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…

Writing Strong Introductions – Grab Readers by the Throat

These examples are from Stein on Writing (except for the Maclean’s example).

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.”

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?”

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?

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.

  • 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.

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:

  • Quotations
  • Statistics
  • Dramatic examples
  • Anecdotes
  • 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. :-)

And to learn Stephen King’s writing secrets — including writing strong introductions — read On Writing.

For more tips for writing introductions, read 52 Ways to Write Interesting Leads or Introductions.

Fellow scribes, do you have questions or thoughts on for writing strong introductions and grabbing readers by the throat? I welcome you below!


Before You Go...


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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
I'm a writer and blogger in Vancouver, BC. I created the "Quips and Tips" blog series; my degrees are in Education, Psychology, and Social Work. My blogs have been my primary source of income since 2008 - which means I'm living proof that you CAN make money as a writer! Don't give up. Have faith, and trust that with God you can do anything.

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17 Responses

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Kathleen, Lisa, Rebecca!

    Good luck writing for Suite, Kathleen…I hope you love it.

  2. Thanks for the “tips on writing” blog! I am new to Suite 101; infact, just getting started today. So, a thank you for the encouragement as I settle down to writing my first article.

  3. Lisa Angle says:

    Thank you Laurie. Sol is a great workshop leader.

    I’ve got some more tips for great story beginnings:
    http://www.ninetydegreesmedia.com/?p=203

  4. Rebecca says:

    These are great tips! You can also use controversy to hook readers. People love sensationalism!

  5. Hi Tracey,

    I’m totally with you on the description part! I find it boring to read, and even more boring to write….but some readers love description (I learned that from my book club :-) ).

    One writer advises writers to stop “clearing their throat.” Instead, get write into the action…like you said.

    Happy writing,
    Laurie

  6. Tracey says:

    Great tips. I like to start my story with action that way the reader is hooked almost right away. I find it the story starts with description, I tend to skip past that section, or put the book down completely. The intro really has to engage me, or I have to know the author is a great writer for me to continue reading the book.

  7. Geoffrey Kamadi says:

    Most illuminating! I think adding a visual element is one of the best ways to keep your reader interestred. The reader can actually “see” what you are talking about.

    -Kamadi

  8. Crissy W says:

    Conflict is good, and so is making readers curious.

    Thanks for showing examples of effective writing, it make a difference. It helps to see what you’re talking about.

    Crissy

  9. Sam White says:

    Hi,

    Putting some kind of conflict in your lead or introduction is the best way to “grab readers by the throat.” Why do you think most Hollywood movies start with conflict? It hooks movie goers and keeps them watching!

  10. Reflexive says:

    Trolls are intelligent contributors to forums. Not exactly a shocking contrast, but perhaps something that would have worked in my post titled ‘Trolls and trolling’ if I had looked here first. Thanks for the tips.
    .-= Reflexive´s last blog ..Trolls and trolling – not reasonless writers =-.

  11. Claudia Peel says:

    Many thanks for your delightful headline. “Grabbing Your Reader by the Throat,” certainly started my day on an upbeat note.

  12. Here are some tips for attention-getting openers from my book, 4Ps to Publishing Success: Get Your Manuscript Off Your Desk & Into Print.

    Techniques for Good Beginnings
    1. Hook your reader in the first sentence, paragraph and page. Ask a question, make a
    startling statement or use dialogue or action to captivate.
    a. Fiction (F): Create an irresistible character.
    b. Nonfiction (NF): Begin with a sentence or question that demands the reader to
    continue.

    2. Create conflict.
    a. (F): Put an obstacle in your character’s path or put your character in danger.
    b. (NF): Present the problem or issue your book will address.

    3. (F) Present an unusual circumstance or story.

    4. (NF) Present your information in an unusual way.

    5. (F, NF) Avoid long, expository openings.

    6. Create a time-sensitive issue.
    a. (F): Your character has one day to come up with ransom money before the
    kidnappers kill her child.
    b. (NF): Ten Weeks to …

    7. (F) Create a vivid atmosphere to set the stage: stormy weather, night at the graveyard,
    hot, unrelenting dry heat of the desert.

    8. (NF) Present a quote or anecdote that will draw the reader’s attention to your topic.

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