How to Write Spellbinding Introductions by Shamelessly Copying the Pros

How to Write Spellbinding Introductions by Shamelessly Copying the Pros

You’ve heard the advice a million times, right?

“To write better, study the writing of other great writers.”

And on the surface that makes sense.

Until you actually try to do it.

Seriously, how exactly do you study great writing?

Should you just read other writers and hope their brilliance rubs off through some form of literary osmosis? Should you write out in long hand what others have typed, in hopes of similar spontaneous hand-to-brain absorption? Or should you rely on something more concrete?

Writing well is hard enough, and the last thing you need is ambiguous advice to further complicate the successful-writer puzzle.

What you really need is a cheat sheet. You need a map to help you navigate the successful writing tactics used by the masters.

Fortunately, you can learn many lessons about great writing technique from just one place – the blog post introduction.

Let’s take a look at a specific example.

How to Deconstruct Great Writing to Uncover the Secrets of Your Heroes

Since this is Smart Blogger, let’s deconstruct one of Jon Morrow’s intros and reveal three specific writing tactics that he uses to hook readers so thoroughly. It’s time to finally get specific about studying successful writers and discover how to use these techniques in your own writing.

The following is the introduction from Jon’s post An Open Letter to Writers Struggling to Find Their Courage:

Do you feel that?

That little tugging sensation on your heart?

You’re not sure what, but something is pulling you to change. Not in a confess-your-sins-oh-ye-sinners way, but to shift directions, to embrace your calling, to finally do what you were put here to do:

You feel the ideas inside you. You sense them straining to escape. You know your job is to set them free, firing them like a cannon into a world in desperate need of them.

But you’re afraid.

You’re afraid of quitting your job and living without a safety net. You’re afraid of the concerned, disapproving looks your friends will give you when you tell them you’re giving it all up to write for a living. You’re afraid of not having enough money for food, of the power being cut off, of watching your family shivering and hungry, all because of your “selfishness”.

And most of all?

You’re afraid you’re wrong about yourself.

Maybe that tugging sensation you feel is just an illusion. Maybe your ideas are crap. Maybe you’re just a fool with delusions of grandeur, and this whole fantasy of becoming a writer is just that: a fantasy.

So, you do nothing.

You cower in your safe little job. You tinker with a blog or a novel or a screenplay. You drown your dreams with junk food or booze or shopping sprees, all the while telling yourself you’re doing the right thing.

But are you?

“No,” a little voice whispers inside of you. “No, this is all very, very wrong.”

Oh God…

Quite effective, huh?

It grabs your attention, draws you in, and keeps you reading.

But what’s going on beneath the surface? If you knew, you could recreate some of that magic in your own writing, right?

So let’s lay bare the first of our three techniques.

1) The Opening Question

Did you know that Jon starts 72% of his posts the same way – by asking a tantalizing opening question?

Let’s look at some examples:

Did you notice some of the ways Jon used questions to capture your attention? I spotted the following:

  • He used deliberate vagueness to create curiosity.
  • He mentioned specific threats that instilled fear.
  • He promised personal information (and audiences love to know more about their heroes)

Questions like these create open emotional loops that must be closed. And to find closure, you need to read the sentence that follows. Which pulls you further into the post. Sneaky huh?

In Jon’s introduction above, he opens with the question: “Do you feel that?” When you read it, you can’t help wondering: “Feel what?” and suddenly you’re unable to resist the next sentence.

You have lots of ways to open an emotional loop. Just make sure your opening question instills an overpowering desire to discover more. Engineer your questions so that the reader can’t possibly stop reading.

And if you doubt this technique, just try turning off your television in the middle of your favorite reality television show’s final episode. 🙂

2) Delayed Transitions

Transitions are words and phrases that smoothly join two ideas, sentences, or sentence fragments.

For instance, the following sentence uses “but” as a transition:

“You want to become a better writer, but you don’t know how.”

Transitions include conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or, yet, for, if, nor, and so), exclamations (e.g., sure, well, yes, no, and oh), and colloquial phrases (e.g., in fact, of course, and granted).

Many transitions are so commonplace that we’d struggle to write without them, but where transitioning is elevated to an art form is through the use of delayed transitions.

A delayed transition puts the transitional word or phrase at the start of the next sentence, or even the next paragraph.

So, we think a sentence is complete.

But in fact there’s more information to come.

And we can’t help ourselves but to keep reading.

The benefits of using delayed transitions are as follows:

  1. They allow us to write shorter sentences, which are easier to read.
  2. They pull the reader further along in your posts, especially when starting a new sentence on a separate line (even delayed transitions written on the same line are one character further along in the document compared to a transition with a comma).
  3. They give the reader the illusion of reading faster than they actually are (remember those awesome books you read in one sitting and you couldn’t believe you read that many pages? That’s what I mean here).
  4. They are a bit unexpected, thus provide a mild stimulus to your reader to keep them actively reading (try giving your significant other an unexpected gift at an unexpected time 🙂 ).

Let’s see how Jon used delayed transitions with his example:

You feel the ideas inside you. You sense them straining to escape. You know your job is to set them free, firing them like a cannon into a world in desperate need of them.

But you’re afraid.

You’re afraid of quitting your job and living without a safety net. You’re afraid of the concerned, disapproving looks your friends will give you when you tell them you’re giving it all up to write for a living. You’re afraid of not having enough money for food, of the power being cut off, of watching your family shivering and hungry, all because of your “selfishness”.

And most of all?

You’re afraid you’re wrong about yourself.

Maybe that tugging sensation you feel is just an illusion. Maybe your ideas are crap. Maybe you’re just a fool with delusions of grandeur, and this whole fantasy of becoming a writer is just that: a fantasy.

So, you do nothing.

You cower in your safe little job. You tinker with a blog or a novel or a screenplay. You drown your dreams with junk food or booze or shopping sprees, all the while telling yourself you’re doing the right thing.

But are you?

Transitions aren’t rocket science, but you must practice to get a feel for what combinations of transition words flow well together and what combinations don’t.

3) Poetic Iteration and The Rule of Three

Poetic iteration is the deliberate repetition of certain words or constructions to enhance the impact of your writing on the reader.

It creates an enticing rhythm that captivates readers and creates a magical bond between related segments of text.

Here’s an example from Jon’s introduction:

You’re not sure what, but something is pulling you to change. Not in a confess-your-sins-oh-ye-sinners way, but to shift directions, to embrace your calling, to finally do what you were put here to do:
The trio of phrases to shift, to embrace, and to finally do makes this sentence more pleasing to read and cements the feeling that this is a writer in full command of his craft.

The Rule of Three is a specific form of iteration that states any idea presented in threes is more memorable, enjoyable, and interesting. (See how that last phrase is so much more satisfying to read than simply “memorable and enjoyable” or “memorable and interesting?”)

So, what’s so special about the number three?

Three is the smallest number necessary to create a pattern, and we humans can’t get enough of patterns to help us make sense of our world.

You’ll find The Rule of Three everywhere.

In well-known quotes:

  • “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
  • “Stop, Drop, and roll.”
  • “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!”

In famous stories:

  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • Goldilocks and The Three Bears (“This is too hot. This is too cold. This is just right,” as opposed to, “This is too hot. This is just right.”)
  • The Three Little Pigs (“I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” as opposed to, “I’ll huff, and I’ll blow your house down.”)

Even in the basic building blocks of storytelling itself:

  • The Beginning
  • The Middle
  • The End

Neat huh?

Let’s see some more examples from Jon’s opening:

You’re afraid of quitting your job and living without a safety net. You’re afraid of the concerned, disapproving looks your friends will give you when you tell them you’re giving it all up to write for a living. You’re afraid of not having enough money for food, of the power being cut off, of watching your family shivering and hungry, all because of your “selfishness”.

Maybe that tugging sensation you feel is just an illusion. Maybe your ideas are crap. Maybe you’re just a fool with delusions of grandeur, and this whole fantasy of becoming a writer is just that: a fantasy.[/su_quote]

You cower in your safe little job. You tinker with a blog or a novel or a screenplay. You drown your dreams with junk food or booze or shopping sprees, all the while telling yourself you’re doing the right thing.[/su_quote] To compare a segment of text with and without iteration, let’s use an example from another popular post by Jon:

To most of the world, blogging is a joke.

It isn’t a career. It isn’t a way to make money. It isn’t a tool for changing the world.

Notice how this reads much better than:
To most of the world, starting a blog is a joke because it isn’t a career, a way to make a living, or a tool for changing the world.
We don’t call Jon “His Royal Awesomeness” for nothing!

“They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!”

Now to drive home this point, I’d like to share my favorite example of poetic iteration and The Rule of Three. It’s part of an introduction to a famous ad by legendary copywriter John Caples:

I played on and as I played I forgot the people around me. I forgot the hour, the place, the breathless listeners. The little world I lived in seemed to fade – seemed to grow dim – unreal. Only the music was real. Only the music and visions it brought me. Visions as beautiful and as changing as the wind blown clouds and drifting moonlight that long ago inspired the master composer. It seemed as if the master musician was speaking to me – speaking through the medium of music – not in words but chords. Not in sentences but in exquisite melodies!
Notice how well that paragraph flowed and how hypnotized you were? Did you spot the uses of poetic iteration (such as the repetition of “I played”) and The Rule of Three (“the hour, the place, the breathless listeners”)? I bet you found some examples but not all of them.

Let’s deconstruct the text using color-coding to reveal the magic:

I played on and as I played I forgot the people around me. I forgot the hour, the place, the breathless listeners. The little world I lived in seemed to fade – seemed to grow dim – unreal. Only the music was real. Only the music and visions it brought me. Visions as beautiful and as changing as the wind blown clouds and drifting moonlight that long ago inspired the master composer. It seemed as if the master musician was speaking to me – speaking through the medium of music –  not in words but chords. Not in sentences but in exquisite melodies!<
No wonder this is considered one of the greatest pieces of copywriting of all time!

Now Get Out There and Open Like a Pro!

As a blogger and writer, you spend a good bit of time improving your writing.

And until recently you’ve had a good excuse to ignore advice to study the greats.

But now that you’ve seen three of the most powerful techniques the pros use to sprinkle magic into their posts, you have no excuse not to start using them yourself.

So why not see if you can use any of these techniques to strengthen your past efforts?

Open one of your old posts and read the introduction again. Opportunities to add an introductory question, delayed transition, or poetic iteration should reveal themselves.

Be sure to use them on your next post too. Remember to practice, practice, practice.

And keep studying those pros. They have more magic up their sleeves.

But that will have to wait for another post. 😉

Write on!

About the Author: Shane Arthur is a former copyeditor for Jon Morrow’s kick-butt Guest Blogging Certification Program (affiliate link) which teaches writers just like you how to get their work featured on the world’s biggest blogs and online magazines.