When I was a little kid, I fell in love with a book and read it so many times that I nearly memorized the first page. Here’s the book’s opening line:
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Do you know what book it’s from? It’s the first sentence of the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
Now go back and read that opening line again. It really grabs your attention, doesn’t it?
It certainly grabbed mine when I was a kid. Just like Fern, I wondered why in the world her dad was heading out with an ax.
Was he going to chop down a tree or, heaven forbid, kill someone?
Shockingly, it was the latter. Fern’s mother matter-of-factly tells her daughter that Papa has to “do away” with the runt of a litter of pigs.
Well, that children’s book began on a dark note.
Of course, Fern ends up rescuing the little piglet, Wilbur, so thankfully the story didn’t traumatize me as a kid.
While it’s been many years since I last read Charlotte’s Web, I still remember that marvelous opening line and how E. B. White got me quickly turning the pages in order to find out what happened next.
What makes White’s introduction so powerful?
It all comes down to one essential ingredient: curiosity.
White uses curiosity like a magnet to pull us further into the story.
And that’s exactly how you want your readers to feel when they read the opening line of your article or blog post.
After all, you’ve spent hours pouring your heart and soul into that post. You’ve edited each paragraph until your eyes ached from staring at the computer screen. You’ve scoured the Internet for “headline formulas” and crafted one that you’re sure will grab readers’ attention.
But even the best headline won’t guarantee that when someone clicks on your article, they’ll stay on the page and keep reading. Your introduction has to further tighten the hold on their curiosity.
As William Zinsser observed in his book On Writing Well,
“Your lead must capture the reader immediately and force him to keep reading. It must cajole him with freshness, or novelty, or paradox, or humor, or surprise, or with an unusual idea, or an interesting fact, or a question. Anything will do, as long as it nudges his curiosity and tugs at his sleeve.”
Today, I’m sharing an effective strategy you can use to write captivating introductions for your articles and blog posts that nudge your reader’s curiosity.
How to Use the Element of Curiosity in Your Introductions
Before we jump into the strategy, let’s review the structure of an introduction.
No matter whether you’re writing a blog post or a college term paper, the strongest introductions have these three components:
- A hook
- A transition sentence
- A thesis statement
The hook is the place where you grab your reader’s attention. Then, you transition into how your hook relates back to the topic of your blog post. Finally, you end the introduction with a thesis statement.
When I write a blog post, my thesis statement is usually a one-sentence summary of the post and how it will benefit the reader. For example, at the end of the introduction to this article, I wrote, “Today, I’m sharing an effective strategy you can use to write captivating introductions for your articles and blog posts that nudge your reader’s curiosity.”
So, what’s that effective strategy I promised?
I call it a ‘narrative introduction’.
Essentially, you pique your reader’s curiosity with a story.
In this article, I explained how stories stimulate a person’s brain far more powerfully than data and abstract language can.
When you start telling a story, your reader’s brain snaps to attention and becomes engaged in your writing. The more detailed and descriptive the language you use, the better.
Again, you can read more about the science behind that in the article below.
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It’s a Thursday afternoon, and I’m a teaching a group of restless sixth graders some of the finer points of English…
The most compelling stories are the ones that present some kind of conflict or problem. They make readers want to keep reading to find out how the conflict will be resolved.
You can discover more about how to craft strong stories in my article here.
A story doesn’t have to be very long. It could just be a quick, entertaining anecdote. Notice in the introduction to this post that my hook is just a few sentences talking about one of my favorite books as a kid.
But those sentences capture your interest and get you wondering what that book is.
Then, I bring that little story back to the topic of the blog post by discussing E. B. White’s opening line and why it made for a powerful introduction.
Now, there are three different ways you can use narrative introductions in your blog posts.
The Three Types of Narrative Introductions
1. You can tell a story about yourself.
Telling a story about yourself is a wonderful way to weave your personality into your posts and give your readers a chance to get to know you better. It also rouses the reader’s curiosity because we’re naturally inquisitive about the lives of others (that’s why reality television is so popular).
Additionally, it makes your post unique and memorable because nobody has had the exact same experiences as you. However, your readers may have been in a similar situation and will find themselves connecting with you on an emotional level.
If you’re not used to sharing personal stories, you might have difficulty coming up with ones to use in your introductions. I recommend keeping a writing notebook or a file on Evernote where you can start collecting potential stories.
With a bit of humor, you can make even the most mundane story an entertaining hook for your blog post.
Of course, it’s important to make sure that the story relates to the topic of the post in some way. Often the connection is obvious, but other times it might be more subtle. If that’s the case, don’t drag out the story to the point where readers are left scratching their heads.
For example, let’s say your headline promises that your post will tell the reader how to start a freelance writing business. However, you decide to open your post with a story that tells about the time you lost your passport while traveling in Europe.
It’s an intriguing story, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with freelance writing. If you don’t explain the connection quickly, readers might end up clicking away.
Sometimes you might need to include a line like, “You might be wondering what all of this has to do with freelance writing. Stay with me. I promise there’s a connection.”
2. You can tell a story about your reader using the personal pronoun “you”.
Italo Calvino famously opened his novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler with this type of introduction,
“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room.”
In my article here, I open with this introduction:
Has this ever happened to you? You’re out to dinner with friends (none of whom are writers), and everyone’s answering the question, “What have you been up to lately?” Your friends talk about their jobs or upcoming trips, and then it’s your turn to answer.
Excitedly, you begin to explain how your blog is growing and that you’ve been asked to guest post. Or you tell them that you’re in the midst of plotting your new novel.
Then you get that look. You know the look. The bored look that’s usually followed by, “That’s cool.” And then they quickly change the subject.
This type of introduction is powerful because it immediately connects with the reader and answers the question, “Why should I spend my time reading this?”
By directly addressing the reader, it’s as if you’ve crawled right into their brain and know the problems and concerns they’re facing. You stir up their curiosity because they now want to know how you will help them solve their problem.
That’s why copywriters use this type of introduction repeatedly on sales pages and other types of advertisements.
However, while it’s an effective method, it’s also a bit overused. I’ve been getting frustrated when I keep coming across so many articles that start with some variant of “Do you feel disheartened? Are you wondering why so many people succeed when the same methods don’t work for you?…” etc., etc.
If you choose this type of introduction, please don’t cop out and just lazily string together a bunch of questions addressing your reader. (Yes, I have been guilty of this on occasion.)
Instead, try to craft a story. Eliminate vague, bland sentences and challenge yourself to include specific details and description. Paint a vivid picture for your readers.
3. You can tell a story about another person, real or imagined.
Dale Carnegie opened the first chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the best selling books of all time, with this type of introduction.
“On May 7, 1931, the most sensational manhunt New York City had ever known had come to its climax. After weeks of search, “Two Gun” Crowley — the killer, the gunman who didn’t smoke or drink — was at bay, trapped in his sweetheart’s apartment on West End Avenue.”
How’s that for a compelling hook?
A Wall Street Journal copywriter also used this type of introduction to write what many consider the best sales letter of all time that generated over $2 billion in profit.
“On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college… Recently, these men returned to college for their 25th reunion. They were still very much alike…But there was a difference…”
If you’re writing an article on, say, a scientific topic, this is a fantastic way to draw readers in so they don’t feel like they’re reading a boring, dense textbook.
And if you’re a fiction writer, you’ll probably find that this type of introduction comes most naturally to you.
Two final tips: You might want to save your introduction to work on last since the direction of your article or blog post can change a lot as you write.
Once you’ve written the body, you’ll have a better idea of the type of story that would be perfect to begin the piece.
Additionally, you can mix together these three different narrative introductions.
For example, the introduction to this article starts out with a story about me. Then I transition into a story that describes the plot to Charlotte’s Web. Then back to me and how I enjoyed the book as a kid. And then I include a paragraph that directly addresses you, the reader, and your struggle to write a blog post.
William Zinsser warned,
“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead.”
Wow, I’ve got to go back and read my first sentence. (Though if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing it wasn’t too bad.)
Few of us are experts at this technique right off the bat and able to write an introduction like E. B. White’s. But don’t worry. With practice, you can get better and better.
Once you master this technique, your writing will rise to a new level as you delight and captivate your readers. It’s likely you’ll even see more comments and shares on your articles.
If you enjoyed this article, click here to get access to all of my free writing guides, including my guide to using Medium to grow your email list.
Nicole Bianchi is a writer, copywriter, and storyteller at nicolebianchi.com. By day, she works with business owners and creatives to help them clarify their websites’ messaging and craft compelling words that resonate with their audience. By night, you’ll probably find her writing a story or reading a good book.
This article originally appeared on nicolebianchi.com