Successful writers need to grab readers by the throat and keep them hooked! These writing tips describe the best ways to write a great lead or introduction. There are dozens of ways to hook readers with the first sentence…but only a few that work every single time…
Before the tips, a quip:
“It’s important to try to write when you are in the wrong mood or the weather is wrong. Even if you don’t succeed you’ll be developing a muscle for later on.” – John Ashbery.
To be a successful writer, you need to write even when you don’t feel like it and even when you’re not in the mood — and I daresay the leads, body, and conclusion of your article or book chapter will be as good as if you actually felt like writing! For more writing tips and inspiration, read Hooking the Reader: Opening Lines that Sell. And, read on for six ways to write a great introduction…
How to Write a Great Lead and Hook Readers
1. Involve your readers. In Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, Frank Peterson advises writers to show only enough to keep readers reading. Give them a peek at your best hand, and slowly reveal the rest. Writing great leads is like leaving a trail of bread crumbs throughout your article…your reader won’t rest until he’s eaten every last crumb.
2. Offer a taste of what the article will reveal. Here’s the lead I wrote for an article on male libido for MSN Health: “Monthly cycles, dipsticks, and brown semen are a few things you’ve probably never associated with healthy sexuality – but they’re all normal for men.” When you’re writing a great lead, you need to grab your reader by the throat!
3. Startle your readers. Here’s an example of an effective introduction or lead that might startle readers and keep them reading: “Eating your own brain may not seem very smart, but that’s how some organisms stay healthy. Scientists found that not only do certain single-cell organisms “eat” their damaged or aged parts, they also consume their own nucleus or brain if it’s diseased. Luckily, you don’t have to eat brains to keep your mind strong – you need only enjoy certain delicious foods.” I think this lead would hook readers, but I haven’t actually sold this article (“10 Foods That Make You Smarter”) yet.
4. Ask a provocative question. “Would you let your husband have a sleep over with a sexy colleague from his office?” The provocative part doesn’t necessarily have to be sensual; anything challenging, stimulating, or even confrontational is provocative. Writing great leads can involve catching your readers off-guard with a bit of controversy.
5. Cite a dramatic fact. This lead would hook readers if they’re interested in animals: “On a scale of 1 to 10, penguins have an IQ of minus 5.” This isn’t the most dramatic fact ever, and this sentence may only hook readers who are totally enthralled with sealife, but you get the point. Interesting introductions are effective when they include a dramatic fact.
6. Gross your readers out. “When Eric Westermann started his career as an archival photographer, he didn’t know he’d be removing teeth and bone fragments from the walls, cleaning clumps of scalp from the ceilings, and disposing of detached ears and toes at murder scenes. This 26 year old works for Crime and Trauma Scene Cleaners, Inc; his job includes decontaminating anything toxic, horrific, or deadly.” This introduction was for an article I wrote for Reader’s Digest Online, called “Ways to Make Work Better.”
The best (only?) way to keep your readers reading is to hook them from the beginning, and keep them hooked. For more writing tips, read 52 Ways to Write Interesting Leads or Introductions.
What have I missed about writing great leads and hooking readers? Comment below — and feel free to ask questions!