- Books, Literature, and Writing
Tips For Writing Great Introductions
Beating a Dead Horse
Any article that begins with a quote by the old baseball professor Sparky Anderson has a chance at success. At least I hope so.
Listen, I don’t know how many more times I have it in me to drill this lesson into your collective brains, but I’m going to try at least one more time. Obviously I have failed miserably in my other attempts, because I am still reading articles that have atrocious introductions or no introduction at all, and to this old teacher that is just unacceptable.
How can I say this without repeating myself? I can’t, so I will. You have ten seconds to grab the attention of your readers….ten seconds….after that brief amount of time your readers will either be interested enough to read the rest of your article/story/book or they will use it to line the bird cage.
Which outcome do you want?
It really all depends on whether you want to improve as a writer or simply get a “click” on Bubblews.
I’m going to give you six suggestions to help you write a better introduction. Use them….don’t use them…it is entirely up to you. But when your writing career goes up in smoke and you can’t even get your husband or wife to read one of your articles, maybe you will remember back to this article when I tried….Lord knows I tried….to help you out.
A STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLE
Think of a truth or principle that is universally acknowledged and use it as your opening sentence. Now of course, it is important that the rest of the article/story conforms to that principle; otherwise you will have some very confused readers. J
Jane Austin used this technique in “Pride and Prejudice.”…..”
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
So did Leo Tolstoy in “Anna Karenina.”
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." If it was good enough for Tolstoy and Austin then it just might work for you.
A STATEMENT OF SIMPLE FACT
Try summarizing your story or book in one sentence and using that as your introductory line. Sound simple? I think you’ll find it is harder than it sounds, but if you can do it effectively you just might have a winner.
It worked for Isak Dinesen in “Out of Africa” with this opening line: “I had a farm in Africa.”
It should be noted that the sentences immediately following that first one better be darned good, or you are facing huge disappointments.
I give you the first paragraph of “To Kill A Mockingbird” for a vivid example of this tip:
"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.... When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out."
That, my friends, is a brilliant introduction, and it really does summarize the whole book if you think about it.
A STATEMENT OF COMBINED FACTS
Let me explain this by an example.
If I were to start an essay by saying….”In a town there was a woman who wanted to help mankind” you would say oh, that’s nice, but so what? There really is nothing special about that now is there?
If I were to start an essay by saying…”In a town there was a woman who communicated with the spirit world” you would say oh, that’s nice, but so what? There really is nothing special about that, either, is there?
But if I were to start an essay by saying….”In a town there was a woman who wanted to help mankind by communicating with the spirit world”….now I have piqued your interest.
A STATEMENT THAT ESTABLISHES MOOD
I have spoken before about setting the scene for your story, book or article, and one way to set the scene is by establishing mood.
If I wanted to write an article about a serial killer it might go something like this:
“It was a bright, sultry day in the little farming community. Folks moved slowly that day as the heat weighed down upon them, an almost physical weight to bear. Deliveries were made, meals were eaten, businesses were opened, and a small child was snatched from her yard, never to be seen again.”
The English language, when used properly, is a beautiful thing to behold. Use it to your advantage.
A STATEMENT THAT ESTABLISHES VOICE
The use of a unique writing voice may well be the most effective way of beginning a story, article or book. Here we are not interested so much in the story itself as we are the magnetism of the writer’s ability to grab the reader’s attention with a distinctive style.
A perfect example of this introduction is the opening line of “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess….”What’s it going to be then, eh?” This opening sentence has nothing to do with the book; it gives not one clue what the plot is about. All it does is establish the frightening voice that will be with you throughout the entire book.
A STATEMENT OF SIMPLE FACT WITH GREAT SIGNIFICANCE
We see this introductory style in many of the great mysteries. Leaving a clue which seems totally mundane, but by the end of the book we realize that the key to the whole mystery was given to us in the opening sentence.
If I were to write a murder mystery, my opening sentence might be…..”Sometimes the most meek among us are the most frightening.” After reading the story we find out that the milquetoast wallflower, the one nobody notices for decades, has actually killed fifteen people in horrific ways.
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Will these suggestions help you?
And That’s the End of Today’s Lesson
The rules of good writing are rules because they are time-tested. They are proven to work, for all writers, and they have worked for centuries. A smart writer, and I’m going to assume that you are all smart writers, will use those rules to improve their writing.
So what’s it going to be, eh? Are you going to begin your next piece of work with something memorable, or are you going to clean out that bird cage and use your next writing piece to catch the droppings?
The choice is yours!
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”