I was catching up on news yesterday and came across an article that began with this:
An Illinois woman mourns her two young daughters, swept to their deaths in Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. It’s a tragic and terrifying story. It’s also a lie.
Any article that details accounts of fraud in the aftermath of Katrina would likely contain compelling information. But that opening had me riveted, and it got me reading a detailed and lengthy piece that I might have otherwise skipped out of laziness.
The article went on for 1,136 words before elaboration on that initial illustration. It finally came as the initial bullet point in a list of false claims for relief after Katrina.
In Illinois, Tina Marie Winston claimed she watched as her daughters, 5 and 6, drowned in the raging waters. She also said her New Orleans home had been swamped. Winston has no children and was living hundreds of miles away when Katrina struck. A judge acknowledged Winston’s mental troubles but sentenced her to four years in prison for defrauding FEMA and others scams.
This type of teaser opening with a delayed resolution works for just about any type of written or verbal presentation. You always want to grab attention quickly and hold it while you provide the surrounding facts or lesson. The main information is the same, but the level of attention and fascination on the reader’s part is greatly heightened, leading to better retention and potential for persuasion.
For more on crafting powerful openings, check out 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post with a Bang.
Reader Comments (24)
It’s funny how I was just thinking about the importance of this concept (and how disparately I need to follow it) and here you have a post on it.
Harry L says
I’m slowly but surely learning this. Unlike most other writing, bloggers don’t have a lot of time to develop their message. Better
to hit readers over the head ASAP, otherwise they may never bother getting to
Stoney deGeyter says
I’m not so sure I agree. Getting hooked is great but holding the payoff for too long and you lose your audience, giving them a negative experience to boot. 1000 words is just too much unless the rest of the article is simply fantastic and you don’t need the payoff.
Stoney, I too think 1,000 words was pushing it. I personally wouldn’t string the reader along that far, as it becomes likely that the reader will start skimming looking for the follow up.
But otherwise, the technique itself is valid.
Kaj Rietberg says
Lately I’m reading a lot about writing on blogs and I believe there are so many interesting tips to learn from. Like this one.
Thanks fot this one.
I’m with Stoney on this one. Effective but a fine line.
cheap montreal says
As someone with experience in journalism, I appreciate your translating this lesson into copywriting. You don’t always see someone who can carry a lesson across multiple disciplines.
On a related note, you may care to check out the following copyblogger’s post on starting … your sentence.
You might also be interested in copyblogger jon krantz (not sure if I’m spelling that right).
Anyway, keep up the good work!
Ryan Holiday says
Made to Stick has a huge discussion on journalists burying their lead.
When you’re proofing your work always ask yourself “Have I buried my lead?” The author of the quoted story has a very clear answer to that question.
Thanks for your comment Brian, and great post–as usual.
Aaron Bobrink says
That opening paragraph has a great hook. I would read it!
I really need to learn how to write openings like that…
I have to be honest about something though Brian. I’m not sure if it’s because you’ve told how you write your posts, but they’re starting to seem canned to me. The headlines especially are getting a bit annoying.
You could avoid sticking to those headline templates you showed us and still write descriptive ones.
I really loved your blog when I first saw it. But I get this feeling of repetition with every post that makes me lose interest.
I hope you see this as constructive criticism. 🙂
Gerard McGarry says
Hi Brian. I don’t agree about the delayed resolution so much – if it looks like the headline mis-sold the article I will walk away. To read that cracker opening and only have a related bullet point near the end would be a disappointment.
I didn’t use a template, and rarely ever do. 🙂
Gerard, I didn’t think the source article was mis-sold at all. Did you follow the link and take a look for yourself?
I think you should have those “cracker openings” all over you article, paragraph after paragraph if possible , so you can make your reader keep reading
Gerard McGarry says
In fairness Brian, I didn’t have the time to follow through on the link.
I was just making the point that often one has high hopes for a post based on the strength of the title, and a misleading title can lead to a disappointing post.
Don’t you find this is sometimes the case with poor linkbait? The writer is often more focussed on attracting clickthroughs than giving value to the reader.
Anyway, I promise next time I’ll click through! 🙂
Mindful Entrepreneur says
It seems the best “opening hooks” violate the reader’s sense of traditional story-telling (so to speak…).
I suppose “conflict” is the right word. We all love conflict.
Michael A. Stelzner says
It helps to have a good story to tell.
If there really is no story, it is much harder to have a captivating opening.
Would you agree?
Putting a little thought into your title and opening paragraph generally pays off, but not always. I wrote an article recently and put a lot of thought in the title, opening paragraph and the main content. However, it received hardly any attention…I was rather disappointed.
Web Marketing Search Engine Optimization says
Interesting article..I really need to learn how to write openings like that…
Mike Haydon says
So delaying the resolution to the end (or as long as possible) is preferred?
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