How to Write a Killer Opening Paragraph in Creative Nonfiction
Please welcome Alex McDonald with a guest post on writing an opening paragraph that grabs readers’ attention.
By the end of this post, you will be a better writer.
Got your attention? Good. This post is all about writing killer opening paragraphs and how doing so can affect a reader’s decision to read on or toss your piece aside. Making a good first impression is paramount.
For the majority of people trying to get involved in professional writing, the bulk of their writing experience comes from academic essays. In both forms of writing, a good introduction is crucial. To paraphrase a sports cliché, ”You can’t win anything with a good introduction, but you can lose a great deal with a bad one.”
However, there is a significant difference between what makes a good introduction in an academic essay and what makes a good introduction in a piece of professional writing or storytelling.
Many of the differences stem from the simple fact that, as a professional writer, you now have readers who are not being paid to read your work. To begin by informing your reader that you will “discuss X before introducing the concept of Y and concluding Z” may be considered clear and concise in the academic world, but outside that world, it’s unspeakably dull.
However, you do still need to outline the points that you intend to make. A balance is required. You need to be able to put the building blocks of your argument in place, without it seeming obvious to your reader that that’s what you’re doing. This takes practice, but you shouldn’t worry as an innate knowledge of how to find this balance comes with time.
The need to keep the reader’s interest means that being concise is even more important in professional writing than it is in academic writing. Moreover, for most people, when they leave university, they leave the world of 2500 word limits. 500 words fill up very quickly, and you can’t afford to spend 200 of them explaining to your reader what you are about to explain to them.
Of course, concise writing is an intrinsically good feature of a piece of writing, without considering the impact on word limits. Mindless waffle is rarely useful in persuading the reader to stick around until the end of your article. Nowhere is this more important than in the introduction, where the instinct for the reader to click away is at its greatest.
One way to make the transition from academic writing to professional writing less daunting is to consider its advantages. For one thing, professional writing can be much more varied. Articles can be humorous, angry, solemn, or scholarly. It is vital that the tone of an article is matched to the tone of the introduction.
If a humorous article has an introduction that reads like a physics journal, the reader will be confused and it is likely that the article will fail to convey whatever it is trying to say. Judging the necessary tone of an introduction is another thing that takes time and practice, but it is achievable, particularly if it’s seen as an opportunity and not a burden.
Professional writing also gives you the freedom to write genuinely unorthodox introductions if you have the confidence to do so. If you make it work in the structure of your article, there is no reason why you can’t begin an article on competitive rabbit breeding with a gorgeously descriptive account of what King’s Cross Station was like on a typical day in the late 19th Century.
If your unorthodox introduction doesn’t work, the worst that could happen is that you have to write it again. The trick is to see this freedom as not something to be afraid of, but the opportunity to write in the way that you always wanted to. When you realize this, you’re halfway to achieving your dream of being a professional writer.
Introductions can make or break a piece of writing. But they are also an opportunity to be creative and to stamp your personality on a piece of work. The confidence to do this comes with time and practice.
Practice is the key, whether through student newspapers, personal blogs, essays, or articles. With practice comes the ability to write an introduction that pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go. And once you can do that, you’ll be a better writer.
About the Author: Alex McDonald is an enthusiastic newcomer to the world of blogging who would love to one day write for a living. He currently blogs for the GKBC Writer Academy, which offers free editorial feedback on introductions and more. He is happy to help people with the same ambition in any way he can.