What does it take to get you to keep reading something?
One of my friends asked me about how to start a blog post. When you’re new to blogging or new to writing in general, getting started really is one of the hardest things to do.
Let’s take a second and look at some extremely successful authors.
124 was spiteful. —Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
Mother died today. —Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942; trans. Stuart Gilbert)
It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
Now let’s take a second and look at some of my opening lines. And I’m not an “extremely successful author.”
I don’t like little kids. “L: Little Kids, a confession”
The other day, I was offered a job as a condom-box-shaker. “I might have a new job.”
Four kids in, and I’m struggling. “Please stop saying, ‘It’ll be ok.'”
Have you ever read a book or an article that sucker punched you? “8 simple tools for raising great kids”
What is similar about these lines?
Each of them should have hooked you. You should want to know more after reading the sentence.
Some authors (especially in fiction) will purposely start “in medias res.” This translates to “in the middle of things.” It’s great for diving right in and giving your audience the most exciting part of a story to catch their attention and make them want to keep reading.
Using a rhetorical question (as in my last example) also creates a moment of reflection for a reader. When we see a rhetorical question (one that isn’t meant to literally be answered), whether we realize it or not, we answer it in our minds. This sets up an expectation for what we’re about to read, and by the end we can decide if we agree with what the author has concluded. (This is also an excellent teaching method!)
Additionally, in the first line or lines of a piece of writing, you can quickly pick up on an author’s voice and style. You can get a glimpse of what the rest of the text will be like.
Figuring out how to write a great first line can feel daunting. The key is to simply catch your readers’ attention.
Past that, my suggestion is to not let the task become your sole focus. Instead, write, write, write, and write some more. Then go back before you publish and look again. Check out that first line. Did it succeed in keeping your attention? Did it hook you?
What are some of your favorite opening lines from stories and articles you’ve read?