On Effective Opening Sentences

What’s the best way to begin a blog post or an essay? Perhaps not with a question mark.

This great post summarizes useful techniques for a strong opening sentence: 

You can start with a blanket statement. Chapter Nine of Sol Stein’s excellent How to Grow a Novel begins with: “A writer cannot write what he does not read with pleasure.” Chapter Fourteen begins with: “All fiction writers are emigrants from nonfiction.”

Sometimes you can just be stark-blunt about what you intend to do. Chapter Eight of Stein’s book, on “Getting Intimate with the Reader,” starts out: “This is a chapter about opportunities.”

If you’re writing a blog post about unequal pay of women and men, you can start with: “This post is about unfairness.” Just tell the reader what the subject is.

If you’re writing about a difficult subject (for example, rape), you can begin: “Rape is not easy to write about.”

Make an exaggerated statement, then tone it down. “In Prohibition days, alcohol could be purchased illegally on every street corner. Actually, that’s an exaggeration, but in fact it’s true that . . .”

Involve the reader in a bit of conjecture. “Suppose you were faced with the choice of living with cancer every day, or obtaining treatment that may or may not work, at the cost of becoming bankrupt and homeless.”

Sometimes you can start with a statistic. “This year, over two hundred thousand Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer.”

Summarize the current state of affairs, then tell how it’s changed recently. “Until recently, new MBA graduates could count on getting a job straight out of school. That’s no longer the case.” 

Put up a straw man and knock it down. “The conventional view of [XYZ] is [ABC].” (That’s the straw man.) “But it turns out the conventional view is wrong.” (That’s knocking it down.) Naomi Klein often uses this technique.

Read the entire post here.

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