This One Secret Will Win You More Readers!
Updated: Jul 10, 2019
By Nishoni Harvey
Do you want your readers to get choked out within the first few words? To be run off and “bore” away, forced to set your book down and walked away for good? Then go ahead, close out this blog post. Forget it existed. It won’t help you anyway.
If, however, you want to grab your readers, hook them with your opening—much as I did with this training session. If you want to create a story or blog that will get ahold of your people and not let them go until the very end, then read on! This article is for you. I must warn you, though, the content may change your writing for good.
Grab Your Reader’s Attention from the Get-Go
You’re not just a writer. You’re a reader too. When you’re looking for something new to read, how do you find it? You pick up a book that looks interesting according to the title and blurb, then pick it up and read the first few sentences.
What happens if you find the sentences a bore? You set the book down and move on!
But what if the book immediately grabs your attention, drawing you in, forcing you to hang on every word? You can’t wait to read the next word and the next and the next! Until you’ve bought the book, found a comfy chair, settled in, and then reached the end, cursing the author for not yet writing a sequel.
So how can you grab your reader’s attention? What is the secret to succeeding in this delicate area? What do you do with the beginning of your story or article? What will change after you read this blog post? Your answer to these questions can make or break your career.
Use a “Grabbing” Sentence
Often the most difficult to write, the opening sentence must be perfect.
What do you mean?
I simply mean the sentence must be properly constructed to be compelling. If Disney’s Magical Kingdom were drab and made up of regular, run-of-the-mill houses, it probably wouldn’t attract as many paying “visitors” as it does.
It’s the construction of the park — the magical atmosphere put off by the buildings, music, and other elements that make the park lucrative. Similarly, your opening sentence must be magical. Compelling.
Well, get on with it, Nishoni!
Hold your horses. I’m getting there! First, I want to point out that, on top of being compelling, your opening sentence must be short and simple. It needs to be easy to read and easy to understand.
Okay, now I’ll “get on with it.”
1. The, “Well, spit it out!” Sentence —
Book — Has anyone ever come up to you with juicy gossip, gave you a hint they had something good for you, and then left you hanging? What happens if the book you pick up starts with this kind of dialogue? It grabs you, right?
Blog — If you’re writing a blog, the same is true. You can use this same technique — and all the methods I’m about to give you by the way. Imagine if your sentence begins with, “I can’t believe this would ever happen to me!” or “What if I told you that there are six easy things you can do today that will make you thousands within the next three months?”
2. The “Asking” Sentence —
Book — Starting with an interesting narrative can spawn your reader’s attention, but many readers don’t like to jump right into narratives, me included. However, if you start with a question that raises the eyebrows and gets the heart racing and the reader wondering, it’ll draw him in. Here’s an example from a classic.
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
(“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White)
Blog — “Do you want your readers to get choked out within the first few words?” My hook must have worked. You’ve made it this far. 😊
Another example might be, “Do you have debt coming out the ears?”
Unfortunately, many people in America would have to answer “yes” to this question. The big catch is if they’re interested in resolving that or not. Your questions will limit your audience, but it will pique the interest of those searching for answers to the issues you’re raising.
Phrase your questions in such a way that your reader has to answer “yes” or “no” and is forced to read on if they want the answers. You might add a layer of anticipation in the next sentence —“It might surprise you to find out the answer.”
3. The, “What?!” Sentence —
Book — Kick off your paragraph with a sentence that introduces an unusual situation. There are many ways to go about this. You can go for the eyebrow-lifting sentence.
“I looked around me at the near-catatonic people and pets, all in varying states of emotional anguish.”
Why were they in this state? What was the main character feeling? What part did she play in it? It immediately gets the reader wondering about the situation.
There’s the humorous sentence, like Lain Banks used in “The Crow”— “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
Another approach is to this is to give them a sort-of Twilight Zone effect. “In sudden fear, I jerked my head toward the loud, boisterous roar to my left and then realized it was just a little chickadee.”
Blog — Give a fact that is just plain weird or out of this world. You can find plenty of these on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” or by googling “weird facts.”
Do you want an example? Would a blog post or article grab your attention if it started with, “Chocolate milk was invented for and sold as medicine!”
4. The “This is downright bizarre” Sentence —
Book — Starting your book with something like, “As the clock chimed for the fourteenth time, a tiny, pink toy elephant nearly ran across my feet, and, somehow, I was okay with that,” adds intrigue and interest from the first sentence.
Blog — If you were scrolling through Facebook and came upon a blog post that was advertised with the first sentence, “I’m sitting here staring at the camel in my back yard,” would you stop and read it? I would!
Many people will at least pause if an opening sentence is bizarre enough. Whether they will continue reading your blog or not depends on how well you construct the rest of your paragraph.
An “I Gotchya” Paragraph
1. The “Introductions” Paragraph —
Book — Introducing an intriguing character can make for a good opening scene. You have to be careful with this, though. It has to be well-constructed to work. It’s not recommended to tell your readers the details in your story for an opening to your book—or at all as far as that goes. Let me explain.
“There was something different about Johnny Joe” is a good introductory sentence, but if it continues with drab details that merely tell about Johnny, you’ll lose your readers quickly. Be careful to continue with sentences that “show” Johnny’s characteristics instead.
For instance, let’s look at this paragraph. “Johnny had a 5-o-clock shadow and crooked, stained teeth. He wanted to smile, but he was self-conscious about his teeth and tried to keep them hidden.”
This is descriptive, but the writer is telling the facts rather than showing them. It’s not as engaging.
Instead, try something like, “Johnny rubbed his rough, unshaven chin. Everything within him wanted to smile, but he dared not lest he show his crooked, coffee-stained teeth.”
This paragraph gives all the same information but does it differently. It shows the readers the details. It even feels more personal, seeming to provide us with a peek into Johnny’s soul.
Blog—I know you can’t actually introduce a main character in a blog. You’re not writing a book or even a short story. You’re recording your thoughts, researching and writing information that you’re interested in, journaling, or whatever else you use your blog for. But, if you’re writing an article-type blog, you can start with an interesting illustration that’s relevant to the information you’re going to share. That illustration could be of Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, or any other number of people. An engaging character introduction would be necessary.
2. The “Explosive” Paragraph—
Book—“Johnny Joe shot to his feet. The very force threw his chair a few feet behind him. His ears rang from the deafening crashing sound from just over the hill.
His heart caught in his throat as a great ball of fire forced its way upward. It cut through the air and seemed to reach into the clouds.
He knew what it was. He’d caught a glimpse of the jet out of the corner of his eye as it raced toward the ground. It had happened so quickly that this was his first chance to react.”
You want to make the sentences short and to the point. This makes the action go more quickly. Also, use action sentences, not passive sentences. And remember to show rather than tell!
Try to limit the adjectives. Instead, find the one word that is defined by the words you’re trying to use. For instance, instead of, “Johnny Joe jumped very quickly to his feet,” say “Johnny Joe shot to his feet.”
Watch out for unnecessary words. You don’t need to say, “Johnny Joe shot to his feet in shock.” The words, “in shock,” are unnecessary since someone shooting to their feet in such a hurry that his chair was thrown a few feet behind him shows he was shocked at the circumstances.
Blog — You might start your informational blog or sales article with a hook like, “I didn’t know it then, but clicking that link would change my life forever… and it wasn’t a change for the good.” I’m sure you can see how that would make someone gasp inside and pique their interest.
3. The “Surprising Angle” Paragraph —
This type of paragraph takes a well-known truth and flips it on your reader. There are many truths out there that have surprising angles that many people don’t consider. Here are a few just for fun:
🐟 You really shouldn’t keep goldfish in a goldfish bowl. Goldfish bowls don’t provide enough oxygen, and they’re too small to be adequately filtered. This is why you see so many sick and dying goldfish.
💊 You have to chew an aspirin to obtain its life-saving effects during a heart attack. When you swallow it, it has to go through your digestive system. However, if you chew it, then this life-saving formula can deliver its antiplatelet effect directly through the circulatory system via the blood vessels in your mouth, which takes a much shorter amount of time.
Book — This is simple enough in non-fiction writing, but it may be challenging to find a way to incorporate this technique into fiction writing.
Blog — The surprising angle paragraph makes a great hook for an informational blog! This only works, of course, if you can find a “surprising fact” that can be incorporated into your blog topic.
Don’t try to throw your “surprising angle” paragraph in there to hook your readers and then drop that subject and move on to something completely different. Not only are bait and switches uncouth, but they are a great way to lose your audience.
4. The “Pivotal” Paragraph —
Book — If you can begin at a point in your main character’s life when everything is in upheaval, when everything is changing and life seems out of control, you can easily grab your reader’s attention. Emotions will be high. Action will most likely be increased. Even just reading a pivotal point, for me, raises my heart rate and keeps me intrigued.
Blog — “What a horrid day it was! Everything went wrong! First, the city turned the water off for maintenance… right in the middle of my shower. My coffee pot decided not to work. Then I couldn’t find my hairdryer. Anywhere. The only thing I can figure is that my teenager borrowed it. It’s probably in the abyss of her room.”
Can you see how this paragraph pulls you in, making you want to read more? Are you disappointed that there’s not more? Why don’t you go ahead and finish the blog post? I’d love to see what you come up with! Use your imagination. Email me your completed post at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I hope you implement these strategies for gaining more readers! They’re very simple to use. It just takes a little ingenuity and practice. Make yourself a note and post it where you can see it to start each blog, each book, and each chapter (yes, each chapter) with a “grabbing” sentence and an “I Gotchya” paragraph.
If you do, you’re sure to grab your reader from the get-go, winning more readers!
Coming second only to God, mothering her four children and “wifing” are Nishoni’s true loves.
Writing pulls up close behind. Having written since she was just a little tyke, she has a file full of stories that she wrote as a first and second grader and beyond, which she hopes to turn into children's books.
As of today, she has authored one novella, one novel, and seven non-fiction books, written chapters in two other books, and published several articles, and blogs.