Open up with a bang

A good friend of mine, Roy Williams, says when writing ad copy you've got to start off by throwing the cat in the punch bowl. Open up with a bang. Grab the reader by the throat and don't let them go. Let the reader know right of the bat that you are about to say something that they absolutely cannot afford to miss. 

Let's take a look at how the pros do it. The following are opening sentences of some of the greatest works in literature. Can you guess the author and the book?

  1. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
  2. "Call me Ishmael."
  3. "Marley was dead: to begin with."
  4. "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty four days now without taking a fish."
  5. "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
  6. "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."
  7. "To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth."
  8. "TRUE!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?"
  9. "This is the room of the wolfmother wallpaper. The toadstool motel you once thought a mere folk tale, a corny, obsolete, rural invention."
  10. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

I think that's enough for now…at least enough to make my point. These are great sentences that virtually launch the reader into the pages of great works. Like a diving board, these lines serve to grab attention, heighten interest, introduce mystery and create forward momentum. Heck, I was distracted from my day just preparing this post! I wanted to stop and read!

So if a great opening line serves to lead the reader into the rest of the copy then why, oh why do we settle for marketing copy that begins with "Welcome to our website!" or "This is our brochure!" Come on! You can do better than that. Don't think facts, think feelings. Don't think information, think emotion. Don't try to sell the steak, sell the sizzle! Don't write about the FEATURES of your camp or conference center or ministry or organization. Tell the stories of the BENEFITS people get from being involved or participating or attending.

Go back to the drawing board (or the writing table) and redo that dreadful copy. You are sitting outside at a little cafe on one of the back streets of Paris. It's the 1920's. You put your pen to the page of your Moleskine journal. You have to concentrate…Hemingway and Fitzgerald, sitting on your right, are arguing about who's going to pay the tab. Picasso, on your left is mumbling to himself in Spanish. You focus. The pen is at the page, the words begin to appear in your mind as through a fog. Now WRITE!

For those of you who are curious:

  1. Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
  2. Melville, "Moby Dick"
  3. Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"
  4. Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea"
  5. Salinger, "A Catcher in the Rye"
  6. Fitzgerald, "The Great Gatsby"
  7. Steinbeck, "The Grapes of Wrath"
  8. Poe, "The Tale Tell Heart"
  9. Robbins, "Skinny Legs and All"
  10. Austin, "Pride and Predjudice"

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