Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Father of the Groom, 2006

Looking for a gimmick? Some writers call it a hook, some an opener. Whatever you call it, it's the thing you use at the beginning to catch your reader's attention. And I've got some ideas.

My husband Dee is the master of the gimmick. He loves a unique visual aid. At our son Pete's wedding he gave a toast he called The Last Farthing. Holding up an ancient English coin, he explained its meaning and passed it around as he developed his theme into advice on creating a happy marriage. (His listeners never realize they're being taught history.)

Surprise is a gimmick. One time Dee stood at the pulpit at church and started singing our family song. This was totally out of character, and had the congregation riveted (except our kids, who were writhing with embarrassment on the floor by then.) Another time he tossed a life-like rattlesnake at some Cub Scouts to start a presentation. He had them hooked.

His books have the same quality. Dee usually has the whole book written before he knows how it will start. Then he lifts the most gripping part of the story out of it's chapter and puts it first. The English Patient is a movie that uses this technique.

Readers are ruthless. We give a magazine a quick thumb-through and put it back on the rack. Two or three sentences convince us to chuck or check out a book. As writers, we have to catch attention immediately or nobody will get to the important stuff we have to say.

Six Gimmicks to Start a Post
  1. Personal story—"I heard the window shatter in my dreams." The trick here is to get right into it. Don't waste words telling us you're going to tell us a story.
  2. Question—"Does the computer scare you?" Make sure you provide a solution.
  3. Quotation—"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork." Take it from there.
  4. Confidence—"Writing is what I do." Don't lose our confidence with "I'm sorry I'm not a very good writer . . . I really have nothing to say . . . my life is boring . . ." Why should we keep reading after that kind of introduction?
  5. Analogy—"Nursery rhymes stick with us. Maybe we should give our kids advice in rhyme." You can use the analogy throughout the article to tie it all together.
  6. Dramatic Short Sentence—"Gimmicks work!"


~Go back to your last five blog posts. Do you start with a bang? Why or why not?

~Think of a viewpoint you'd defend hotly in an argument. Now, start in the middle of the debate and write a passionate post. Do you sound confident?

~Pretend your article is featured in a magazine. What is the headline on the cover that would make somebody buy it? Use that to start your next post.


Misty said...

Hmm, I looked over my last few posts and I don't really start at all. That's kind of a downer. Can you fix me?

Abby said...

I love this idea! I don't think I'm a good writer at all so these tips will help me out in my posting! Thanks!

Diane said...

This is a good reminder.

How does this work?

Meg said...

Once again - great advice.

I apologize a lot for my writing.