|If you don't have a hook, try a carabiner.|
Photo credit | EKHumphrey
The image or idea I found could capture the reader’s attention and provide instant recognition (a popular celebrity), while providing a meaning to the piece (the celebrity’s questionable actions) that could illustrate a larger concept.
Normally I don’t start writing a piece until my research—interviews, news articles, books—uncovers something that stands out as the hook to draw the reader in. There are many approaches to take when looking for a way to draw a reader into an article. Here are a few of my favorites, which are techniques often used within fiction:
- A detailed description of the article’s subject — These beginnings always bring me directly into a piece because I start to visualize the person. If it’s not a person, the description of an object is incredibly useful. A recent example appears in “The Big Kill” by Elizabeth Kolbert, she describes an animal, which is a major focal point of the story. (The New Yorker, December 22 & 29, 2014)
- A quotation or an unusual fact or figure — What better way to introduce a fascinating topic? Give the key subject a starring role by providing a cogent quote in the opening. Finding an interesting or out of the ordinary piece of information can have your reader feeling enriched and educated on the topic. These often intrigue the readers and make them want more. Laura Jacobs, in “Balanchine’s Christmas Miracle” begins her Vanity Fair piece with an excerpt from a journal written in 1964.
- Conflict — Nonfiction and news pieces often set up a David versus Goliath conflict in the early paragraphs. In American Queen, a book I’m currently reading for review, John Oller uses conflict well. He contrasts his subject—Kate Chase Sprague—with those in her orbit, which sets the stage for a chapter's action. (Oller also alternates with using detailed description.)
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her free guide, Harmonizing: Find and Communicate to Your Audience, helps health and wellness professionals communicate with their potential clients.