How to Grab Readers with a Brilliant First Paragraph

“James Boddie rose from a leather chair in the living room of his townhouse, minutes from downtown Baltimore, and walked upstairs to retrieve something. ‘I want to show you this,’ he said.

He’d been telling stories about his grandson, Michael Vick, stories about how a poor kid from a rough neighborhood in Newport News, VA could use football to build a fancy hours for his mother and life of fame and riches for himself. Stories of taking a train to New York to be with his grandson when the Atlanta Falcons made Vick, a quarterback from VA Tech with a powerful left arm and magical legs, the top pick in the NFL draft in 2001.

Boddie returned with a frame containing . . .”

So begins the attention-grabbing first paragraph written by Mark Maske in an article entitled Playing to Wrong Crowd for the 8-21-07 Washington Post.

What’s the point?

There have probably been hundreds of articles written about Michael Vick in newspapers around the country in the past few weeks.

I bet that is the ONLY ONE that starts out that way. The reporter was not content to be common. I imagine he thought, “How can I start this article in an unexpected way? How can I grab my audience from the get-go? How can I paint a word picture so readers see what I’m saying? How can I quote someone talking so people feel like they’re a fly-on-the-wall ?”

From now on, don’t start your article, blog, book, or column with what you think.

Don’t start off with what you believe.

Don’t start off by explaining something or by telling us what you’re going to tell us.

Put us in a real-life scene. Describe it with visual detail so it comes alive. Feature back-and-forth dialogue in quote marks.

Do that and we’ll keep reading.

What are your tips for grabbing readers? Have you written an article or blog post that starts off with an intriguing first paragraph? Send us a sample (100 words max) that POP!s . . . and I’ll send the first three submissions my Write Here – Write Now calendar with 365 inspiring quotes about how you can jump-start your creativity.

  • bestyourlife2

    Interesting tips how to write!
    I am exeriencing a writers block.
    Would you care to give me a tip?
    please come and visit!

  • Rhett Laubach

    Excellent tip, Sam! Thanks and thanks for visiting NSA-OK a few months ago. I am on the board with the chapter, but was traveling and speaking that Saturday. The chapter loved you though! Hope our paths cross soon…


  • tejae

    Oh you are soo right! This is a perfect tip. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to try to start incorporating more of that into my writing. :)

  • Mimi Lenox

    Hello! I just submitted my 100 word paragraph. GREAT advice here. I will direct my readers to your wisdom in a Sunday Blog Chatter segment soon. Everyone should benefit from this. Thanks!

  • samhorn

    Thanks for all your responses. It’s always nice to know people are reading my blog and finding it interesting and useful.

    I posted a tip today from my “I Can’t Believe I Wrote the Whole Thing” CD about how to overcome writers’ block. Hope that helps kick-start your creativity again and the words flow so fast your fingers can hardly keep up.


  • Tenomania

    Hrmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

  • Myarticleshub

    Thats a good post. I have been visiting your blog since quite some time now. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to the updates

  • Video

    Excellent tip, Sam! Thanks and thanks for visiting NSA-OK a few months ago. I am on the board with the chapter, but was traveling and speaking that Saturday. The chapter loved you though! Hope our paths cross soon…


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  • 4d theater

    I saw your show this afternoon (Sunday, April 29). Excellent. It’s too bad those people walked out near the beginning; not only did the show get better as it went along, but it seemed to me that the density of “bad” language kept decreasing. :-)

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