Hook, Line, and Sink

You have less than five seconds to impress your audience with your first sentence (ten if they are a slower reader). Aside from the title, your opening is absolutely critical to engaging your readers, so you really have a lot of pressure to put something good together. There are various methods for creating an engaging opening, and I’ll run through a brief list of some of the most common:

1) Open with a quote: ““There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Ernest Hemingway)

People have been saying great things for centuries now, and sometimes, they said it better than we ever could. Just be sure to put quotation marks around the quote, and to give credit, where credit is due, otherwise you are plagiarizing someone else’s work.

2) Use an interesting statistic or fact: The average modern book is made up of approximately 64,000 words (Gabe Habash, Huffington Post).

Be sure to cite the source of the statistic or fact, and be sure that the information you are citing is accurate (to the best of your research). Also, remember to be consistent in the way that you cite information, and using a good style guide will be of immeasurable help to you. The basis of most of my style comes from the Chicago-Turabian way of presenting information, although I’ve tweaked that style for whichever organization I work. Other popular styles are AP and CP for business, and APA and MLA for academia. I’ve provided a couple of links but a quick Google search will show more resources. Ultimately, style is about consistency.

3) Pose a question: Why is good writing so difficult to achieve?

Questions have a subtle psychological hook that makes people instinctively want to come up with an answer of some kind to the question, even if that answer is, “I don’t know.”

4) Be creative: The following example is one my favourite openings of a novel, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Creativity is in some ways the hardest method of trying to lure in your reader. A good measure of success is if you like what you wrote and, be honest with yourself, if the sentence was drier than the last chapter of a book on criminal law and the common good, or if your sentence on repeat would constitute torture in a third world country, then you need to rework that hook. If you can’t think of something witty or creative to write, reread parts of your favourite books, flip through your favourite magazines, pick up a newspaper for inspiration; the reading will inspire you to greatness.Fishing Boats in Northern California


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