F*CK! How to Get Your Readers' Attention Immediately!
I’ve already written about how to make content more engaging here. But really, how do you start a text in a way that is compelling to your reader? Moreover, on many blog formats as well as in search results the first lines of text are displayed and they are crucial to catching your audience’s attention.
Many of us have been drilled at school to write introductory paragraphs and especially the need to precisely define the outset of our position while covering our asses at the same time can hamper our writing in non-academic environments later on. To show what I mean, consider this "bad" example of an opening paragraph to a travel blog post.
You all know that I love traveling to remote places but I also like traveling not that far away. It’s been three weeks since I returned from China and now I’m going away again. I always plan everything in detail but this time I wanted to be spontaneous. This trip, as opposed to China, would only require a small trolley instead of a big one. I’m already looking forward to how beautiful it’ll be. While you all know that I love the big city I also love nature. I was already thinking about what to pack in my little trolley.
After reading the preceding paragraph, can you tell me what the blogpost will be about? Is it about travel? Is it about planning your travels? Is it a sponsored post for a trolley, maybe? In this preceding paragraph we don’t really get anything tangible. We don’t know what the topic of the post is but we get a lot of justifications for common behavior such as being spontaneous and loving nature. This paragraph didn’t really do anything for the reader but, at least to me, shares this ring of vagueness that papers in liberal arts so often have.
The question is, how can we make this whole introduction more efficient while not losing our readers’ attention because we keep on rambling? Consider this suggestion:
Our ferry was going to the Croatian island of Hvar.
Through this one sentence, we know what’s going on, we know where we are, and we have a sense of our surroundings. We can assume that we are surrounded by the sea and we probably expect a post that has to do with holidays in the Mediterranean.
To get a better sense of how all of this is working we can turn to the opening shots of a television crime drama. The first shot shows the skyline of New York City. That is how we know where we are. CUT! The next shot shows sirens, yellow police tape, and we can hear radio chatter. That is how we know that we are at a crime scene. CUT! We see two people standing over a corpse. That is how we know who the detectives on the case are and that the investigation has started.
Within a few seconds and without a single line of dialog we have been primed on what is going on and what we can expect. This is a very efficient way of conveying information without having to ramble. If you are not sure of how to start, remind yourself of the TV crime drama example.
There are of course countless other ways to open well. Instead of situating the reader and set expectations you just might start with something outlandish and shocking.
On the bathroom floor in front of me were a gun, a duffel bag full of money, and a clown’s mask covered in blood.
This opening paragraph cries for an explanation and poses more questions than it answers. What happened? Was there an armed robbery that went awry? Is our protagonist being chased? And so on… The author will likely have to spend the next pages justifying this opening but has the readers' attention in the process.
Be careful, however, if you post something clickbaity online. If the following content does not meet the expectations of your readers, you’ll likely disappoint and lose them.
In the end, I want you to be inspired to go and write something. That’s why I have chosen to leave you with a couple of opening lines from literary tradition. Pay close attention to how these make you feel, what tone they set, and what expectations they raise in you. Happy writing!
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- “All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Neuromancer by William Gibson
- “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
- “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;” Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare
- “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- “It was a pleasure to burn.” — Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
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