Do Your Introductions Dazzle and Sizzle?
A Comment That Left Me Speechless
Maybe six months ago I wrote another article about introductions and how important I feel they are. I mentioned the Ten Second Rule, how, as a writer, you have about ten seconds to dazzle your reading audience. If the dazzle is lacking then the readers will go elsewhere.
One of my followers mentioned that my rule is not always true. She stated that people who do an online search for a recipe or even a craft article couldn't care less how well the article is written or how fascinating the introduction is; all they want is the damned recipe.
And you know what? She was correct. As much as it pains me to admit it, she was right on. The average online seeker of truth has the attention span of a fruit fly. I said “average,” so please don’t get in a snit. The fact is that someone looking for a recipe for meatloaf couldn't care less how interesting the introduction is; hell, they don’t even care if there is an introduction.
I hate that fact but there you go! The reality of online web searches in black and white, no frills, just the facts, Jack, and nothing more, please.
So this article is not for those of you who write recipe articles. It’s not for those of you who write “how to” articles or even craft articles. This one is for those of you who write novels, non-fiction books, and articles with some serious meat in them. It is not for vegetarians.
Speaking from My Own Experience
I’m a busy guy. I’m sure most of you are as well. I have a limited amount of time to devote to reading. When I go to the library on Saturday I am in search of entertainment and I don’t want my time wasted on pablum-for-the-easily-entertained.
I head to the mystery section and I start grabbing books that look like they might be interesting. I read the jacket cover for a synopsis and then I read the first page. If I’m not sold by then the book goes back on the shelf, and it’s amazing how many of those books do not entertain me and do not hook me in the first page.
Writers need to embrace this simple truth: people are busy and it is the writer’s job to hook the reader quickly. Otherwise you will lose them.
So How Do You Do That?
When writing a novel, it is crucial that you understand the basic structure of a novel. That may seem like a “duh” statement, but I am surprised how many writers don’t understand this.
It all begins with the “inciting incident.” The inciting incident is the first sign of trouble for the protagonist. It is the gasoline that fuels the rest of the book and sets the plot in motion.
However, very few novels dive right in with the inciting incident. Usually the protagonist does not realize, on the opening page, the problem that will propel the book, so there has to be an initial problem that leads to the main problem. Something related to…something that leads to….some catalyst that gets the reader from Point A to Point B.
And that brings us to the introduction.
I am a big fan of the senses and emotions we all share. I play to them often when writing fiction. I want the reader to immediately feel what I feel or, in the case of fiction, to immediately feel what my characters feel. Let me give you an example of how this works.
I’m going to share with you the introduction to the novel I am currently working on, “Shadows Over Innocence.” Because you won’t be able to read the whole book for some perspective, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the plot and then show you the introduction.
The protagonist of my book, “Shadows Over Innocence,” is Eli Baker. Eli is a pretty good guy. He volunteers his time working with the homeless and at various food banks. He’s a good friend. He’s trustworthy and loyal. He’s also a vigilante and he has killed five serial rapists and murderers in the past three years.
He has suffered great loss during his life and he is so very tired of the bad guys going unpunished, so he decides he will be the executioner.
The body of a teenager is found. She’s been raped and strangled. Eli is on the case, but he barely begins and another dead teen is discovered.
His investigations eventually uncover a sex-trafficking ring and Eli, with the help of some friends, spends the rest of the book eliminating those who would profit from the misery of others.
Now You Are Ready for the Introduction
This is the intro to that book:
I don’t trust good vibrations. I get downright nervous when things are going well because sure as shit it means God (if He does, in fact, exist) is about to pull the rug out from under you. My old man, who had been a veteran cop, always prepared for the worst when the good weather arrived. He said the crazies came out of their burrows when the sun shines. He said when it got really warm, those same crazies would peel off their clothes and inhibitions, get liquored up, and completely ignore societal and moral constraints. Then, he continued, the gutters would flow red and all semblance of order went right out the window.
I wish I could enjoy the beauty of a late summer day without constantly being on guard for the sinister shadows. When you’ve seen too much death, as I have, you tend to expect the worst even when the gentle breezes caress your face. You see young children playing in the park and wonder which of them is being abused. You walk into a crowd and wonder which of them will be violently murdered by year’s end. You drive by a cemetery and hear the whispers of your victims, and I have five who are constantly calling out to me.
So, What Did I Do There?
I didn’t start with a murder. My goal was to establish a dark tone immediately. I want my readers to settle in for an unnerving ride. I want them to understand, from the very beginning, that this is not going to be a trip to Disneyland, but rather a ride through the Dark Side.
Once that has been accomplished it is time to tell the story. What you don’t see in the introduction above is the next section. A teenage girl goes to the mall, supposedly to meet friends and go shopping. What her parents don’t realize, though, is that she is meeting a boy and she is going for a drive with him. She barely knows this boy. He is older, and they have been texting each other for several weeks.
When she doesn’t return home by midnight, her parents, now frantic, notify the police.
The rollercoaster of terror, one any parent would understand, has begun its ride.
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The Message Should Be Clear
If you write articles about recipes or travel, ignore 99% of what I just told you.
If you are a novel-writer, I hope you paid attention.
You get one chance! You get one opportunity to capture the attention of your readers.
Don’t waste it!
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”