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The Indispensable First Paragraph

I normally don’t buy a book unless the first paragraph wows me. Do you?

The indispensable first paragraph draws the reader into your world of ideas and principles, stories and lessons. Whether you’re writing a memoir, a devotional, a Bible study, a Christian living book, or any other kind of non-fiction book, craft a first paragraph that wows the reader and makes them want to step into your “world.” Here’s how.

  1. Write tight.

Don’t bog the reader down with too much detail in the first paragraph. This is your chance to open the door that looks into your world of ideas. Don’t make the door too heavy to budge.

  1. Show, don’t tell.

Don’t tell them that they need your book—share a story that illustrates why they do. Or give an alarming statistic. Include a picture of the people you’re writing about. Let the reader “see” with their mind’s eye why they need to keep reading your book.

  1. Be an artist.

As you paint a picture of why someone should read your book, use the best colors. Pick vibrant words to make your point. Use bold strokes to get their attention when needed, and finish the paragraph with subtle movements to keep them reading. Don’t give away everything in the first paragraph, but gently point them to the next one. Keep them moving through your world of illustrations and ideas.

  1. Engage the mind, and touch the heart.

When someone considers buying a non-fiction book, they are probably wanting to deepen their knowledge of a particular subject. So engage their brains. But don’t forget to engage their hearts. People are often motivated to action because they sympathize with a need, hate an injustice, worry about a problem, or love a cause. Connect with their minds and their hearts as you introduce your subject. You will probably need your whole first page to do this, but get started in the first paragraph as you share a story, give an alarming statistic, or ask a thought-provoking question.

  1. Use the most effective voice.

What voice, or style of writing, best suits your purposes? If you’re seeking to warn, find the wording that acts as a wake-up call to the reader. If your purpose is to encourage, write as though you are speaking to a friend. If you’re sharing a story to begin your book, be the narrator that peers into the lives of the people you’re describing and unfolds the plot layer by layer. Choose the right voice that will appeal to your target audience and will effectively deliver your message.

Open the door to your world of ideas--5 elements that make an indispensable first paragraph. Click To Tweet

Which of these 5 elements would you like to see in a book’s first paragraph? Which appeals the most to you? Share in the comments below, and happy writing. The indispensable first paragraph—never write a book without it!

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3 comments

  1. Cherrilynn Bisbano - Associate Editor A3
    Cherrilynn Bisbano - Write With You: Magazine and Article Writing

    Thank you, Katy, This article is just what I needed. I have some questions for you. You know I am new at this. #4 gave me insight. I have been praying about the individual chapters of my book. Is the intro more important than the first chapter? What if I want to encourage and give a wake-up call?
    You are amazing.

    • Katy Kauffman - Writing Captivating Nonfiction/The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages

      Cherrilynn, I am glad you liked the post. I would say the Introduction is definitely important since it sets up the whole book, and I would venture to say it’s necessary! So it may be more important than the first chapter because you’re getting the reader ready to step into your world of ideas.

      Hopefully, people read Intro’s, and I imagine the other authors would give some good insight into this. I always read the Intro of a book, and I look for why the author is writing about this and what connection he or she has to the subject and to me as the reader. If you have an encouraging voice, that would resonate with me. Plus, giving a wake up call would call me to action.

      So to me, the Intro gives a taste of what’s in your book, and leaves them wanting to know more. Then Chapter 1 dives into your first point or topic. I hope that helps, and thanks for your kind comment. Happy writing! God bless your project!

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