You’ve spent countless hours pondering the plot, creating the characters’ voices, and building the perfect twist at the end that will leave readers speechless. Once everything is as good as you can make it, you publish your writing and wait. . . .
But no one reads your masterpiece.
Unfortunately, in our content-saturated age, if you don’t grab people by the throat, pull them in close, and yell, “Pay attention to me!” with your first paragraph, they won’t stick around to read the amazing story you’ve crafted.
Your Opening Paragraph Is Vital
When I was editing submissions for Short Fiction Break, if the first paragraph didn’t hold my attention, I rarely kept reading. I'm an avid reader looking for things to read. If a story didn’t keep me engaged, it had no chance of catching the attention of the average internet reader.
A scroll through my Facebook feed illustrates the problem. Here are some of the titles vying for my attention:
- 21 Bacon Recipes for When You are Trying to Eat Healthy
- This Game of Thrones Theory Blames Bran for Everything!
- 15 Times Super Heroes Kill People
- Amazing Movies Streaming Right Now!
That blog post you just published? That’s what it is competing with: bacon, super heroes, the entire movie industry, and Game of Thrones. I see the Game of Thrones headline and neurons in my mind begin to fire. “Yeah,” I tell myself. “I bet the whole crippled thing is just a clever ruse. Damn you, George R. R. Martin! Damn you and your ever-twisting plot!”
3 Qualities of Effective Lead Paragraphs
Never fear. Even with all this competition, getting your writing noticed isn’t hopeless. I fully believe good work gets read, and a great opening paragraph will help.
Here are three qualities of opening, or lead, paragraphs that win readers' attention:
1. They Are Direct
The Wild West of the internet is no place for meandering. Your lead paragraph should walk down the street with purpose. Its commanding presence should cause others to step aside because your paragraph has somewhere to be.
Attention-getting lead paragraphs paint clear, simple pictures. They are easy to read. Save SAT words and flowery descriptions of the drapes in the front room for the middle of the work. Don't dilly-dally in your opening paragraph.
Set the scene. Do it in a way that gives us an instant image, and don’t write any words readers are going to have to google.
2. They Grab Readers by the Throat
Internet readers don’t want to ease into anything. I’m not looking for a slow float around the lazy river. This is the internet; I’m probably reading your post on my phone. Give me rapids. Give me challenge. Give me conflict. Give me Jimmy Olson tied up in a corner with a bomb strapped to his chest and a timer reading 10 seconds until the end of the world.
An attention-getting lead paragraph draws readers in.
By the time a reader gets to the end of the first paragraph, they should be at the top of the roller coaster, filled with anticipation, looking down at the rush they are about to feel.
3. They Make Readers Care
Unfortunately, in our calloused age, a dead body on the floor or a couple yelling at each other isn’t enough on its own to get a paragraph noticed. Seventeen seasons of Law and Order SVU have hardened us.
An attention-winning lead paragraph must go one step further: it must make us care.
Show us a character we are intrigued by. Say something that makes us smile. Touch our hearts with a wink or a nod. Remind us that the feelings sparked by images created in our imaginations are far more powerful than the feelings forced by images we see on screens, and we will stick with you to the end of the piece.
You CAN Get a Reader's Attention
There is more competition for a potential reader’s attention now than ever before, but you can rise to the challenge and capture readers from the start. Cast aside fear, kick doubt in the face, and write a simple, emotionally engaging, conflict-filled lead paragraph that demands to be reckoned with.
Your readers will be happy to follow.
What do you find most challenging about writing an opening paragraph? Let me know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to write a lead paragraph that will grab readers' attention. Revise the first paragraph of your current work in progress, or write the beginning of something new.
When you're done, share your practice in the comments. Don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!