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Grabbing Attention

Trying to write a story?

Worried that you will end up penning something derivative, full of clichés, tired or too obvious?

Here are three quick tactics you can use to grab your readers’ attention from the start:

1. Use a Unique Angle

You can confidently begin anywhere, with anything, but spice it up immediately by taking a unique approach to the content. Say something unconventional or insightful; open in an intriguing way.

For example, the opening sentence of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina introduces the domestic background that drives the story’s tragedy, using a sweeping assertion. The opening line is effective for two reasons. On one hand, it makes a controversial claim:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

We might object. But we are also compelled to see a truth that might have hitherto escaped our attention. This opening sentence is also well constructed -it has a symmetry that makes us become curious about how this claim will be proven by the story. When you use a unique angle, it catches your audience’s eye.

2. Project Oddity

You can stand out by being odd. Not necessarily totally weird — just odd. Your image, your style, or a unique approach to a common topic make your work a little bit electric. Take the opening line of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, for example:

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

A strong story opening like this immediately makes you want to know more. The incomplete knowledge acts as a vacuum, sucking in your attention. We want answers, completeness. Who is Bunny and why is he dead? The use of past-perfect tense (‘had been’) makes a wider mystery than just Bunny’s death. The story hints that we will discover not only how and why Bunny died but also in what context. ‘Our situation’ suggests a possible conspiracy of characters and the narrator’s possible complicity in sinister events.

By all means begin with staid concepts, even tropes - but present them differently. Oddness create mystery and hooks attention.

3. Mess with time.

A story doesn’t absolutely have to begin at the beginning. Story openings can jump forward to later events or recall earlier ones than the main time-frame of the narrative.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s opening sentence to his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a good example:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

This gives us a sense of the character’s unusual, tense future while juxtaposing the character’s nostalgia for the past. Why are this curious past and future placed together in one sentence like this? We are pulled along; we must continue to read to find out.

A lot of movies use this same tactic. Instead of showing the events chronologically, they’ll start with a climax or crisis and then go back and explain it. Start with something punchy to arrest reader attention.

Readers will stay with you all the way through your story if you play with their attention, direct it as cleverly as you can, and be yourself.


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