Connecting in your lead

When you set out to write a lead paragraph, one question faces you above all: How do you connect with the reader? And how do you do it right away? Whether you’re writing a book, article, blog, or op-ed, that isn’t just a question you need to answer. It’s the question.

How can you write so readers easily make sense of what you’re saying? Easily and effectively. Easily and accurately. Easily and enjoyably. The challenge is not just how to choose words. It is using verbal devices that fit the idiom of the times, the topic, and the reader.

By idiom, I mean the natural, familiar, and characteristic. Are you appealing to the way your readers think? To how they communicate? To the logic and shared truths they prefer? Are you composing text so you’re locking in on their wavelength?

You can connect in various ways. Words come first, of course, but you can use successively more potent devices that create chemistry between you and the reader. Here’s what I ask myself to make sure I’m connecting:

1)   What words will convey my message? Again, you start with words. Plain words, unmistakable. If you find the right ones, you can’t beat them.

2)   What metaphors, analogies, or figures of speech will light up my message? Consider artistic ones to connect to right-brained people, science ones to connect to left-brained people.

3)   What patterns of thought do my readers prefer? Accountants favor reasoning with numbers; artists with intuition; scientists with first principles, and so on. Everyone uses different rules of thumb.

4)   What images convey the essence of what I’m saying? Can you paint a picture that helps readers see what you mean? Seeing is believing.

5)   What situations allow readers to grasp my message? If you put readers into a compelling scene, you can trigger empathy and quicken understanding.

6)   What emotions can I awaken? Can you evoke fear, sympathy, yearning, envy, ambition, and other reflexive reactions? Can you make people feel in the moment?

A caution: Once you start writing, you’ll find that plainly worded clear statements often serve best. That’s because metaphors and images, if not dead-on, will muddle your message. But if you can clarify meaning through these devices—connecting with the mind, emotion, memory, and senses of the reader—you can engage people at their cores.

In the best of cases, you combine many devices. As evidence, read this lead paragraph from chapter 1 in 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi, a first-rate book by Mitchell Zuckoff in which he engages readers with words, metaphors, patterns, images, a situation, and emotions all at the same time.

“Jack Silva leaned forward in his window seat aboard the Turkish Airlines jet as it approached Benghazi’s Benina International Airport. He looked outside at the plane’s shadow racing across the caramel-colored desert below. Jack believed deeply in the yin and yang, the Chinese concept that a connection exists between seemingly opposing forces, the dark and light, life and death. So it was unsurprising that two conflicting thoughts entered his mind. First was excitement: I wonder what adventures this place is going to bring. Then came its counterbalance, worry: I wonder if I’ll ever see my family again.”

Leave nonessential background and context until after the lead—readers can wait! The lead is just that, a means to draw your reader in and down your enticing path. Once they are walking at your side, you can pause and ask them to look over the countryside. That’s what Zuckoff did, showing his skill by waiting until paragraph 2 to explain Silva’s background story..

Be Sociable, Share!

This entry was posted on Monday, March 30th, 2015 at 11:42 am and is filed under Craft, Drafting, Message. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Thanks for commenting. To avoid spam and to make sure posts are relevant, Bill may edit or delete comments. Please don't hit the submit button twice -- your post will soon appear. Privacy policy