I’ve always found introductions to be the most difficult part of writing, and I’m sure quite a few people would agree with me.  I find it easier when writing fiction.  I usually start in media res with an especially interesting first sentence.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that, especially for free short stories, you need to hook the reader pretty quickly, whether that be through mystery, sex, or some other hook.

Where I have real difficulty is with writing non-fiction.  You can’t really begin in the middle of an essay, unless you want to confuse everyone.  A pattern I eventually settled on is one I got from Plutarch.  In his Lives, he usually opens each life with an anecdote that he uses to segue into his main topic.  I like this approach for a few reasons.  One, I love anecdotes, and this gives me a chance to share and use some of my favorites.  Two, it can connect your topic to a wider world.  Three, it’s extremely flexible.  It’s pretty hard to find topics that you can’t use this for.

Right now, I’m using this method for a historical biography I’m working on.  My only problem is that I’m not sure about the quality of the opening anecdote.  I have a few other options, so I’m contemplating switching over to one of them.  I guess I’ll run it by some friends and see what they think of the introduction, and if they like it, I’ll keep it, which brings me to a last benefit of this system: it’s modular.  Since the introductory anecdote isn’t directly tied into the rest of the text, it can easily changed or replaced without any loss of quality or information.

How do you go about introductions?  Do you have a system or a preference?

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2 Responses to Introductions

  1. Ripberger says:

    In middle school, one writing strategy I was taught was to start with a question. Starting with a quote (or an anecdote, as you mention) was another possibility. I wish I could remember the other strategies.

    One method I like is starting the story from the middle or getting right into the plot. “Charlie sat down near a skeleton and pondered how on earth he ended up in the King’s dungeon.” Then Charlie or the narrator would recount how Charlie found himself in that situation. As you said, that might be difficult with non-fiction, though.

    When I wrote my capstone history paper, we were taught to start with a thesis statement explaining what we discovered and then go about using primary and secondary resources to back up the claim. Academic writing can be very dry, though. It’s been a long time since I wrote anything creatively.

    There is something about Shakespeare’s way of introducing the plot that I like. I have the Prologue of “Romeo and Juliet” stuck in my head. It makes me want to know more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnkutensky says:

      I like the question idea, too, although that sounds better suited for essays than history. Even in my academic papers, though, I usually ended up using my anecdote method. Hell, I think I even used that to start a paper I wrote on my friend after conducting an interview for my anthropology class.


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