Golden words

Your first sentence has to grab the reader, says ZenMom, our second Guest Writer.

ZenMom is a former reporter and remains free of the corporate world by working in the Public Sector within PR. She writes, edits and publishes, and focuses on the ‘R’ in PR. It’s great to have her golden words here at kilobox communiqué.

“Anytime you can lead a story with a gunshot wound to the scrotum, you gotta go with it.”

My favourite college professor imparted those words of wisdom to me when I was a but a wee journalism student.

Seriously, would I make up something like that?

I was reading an article the other day about headlines and leads and grabbing your readers and I suddenly flashed back to that day…

One of my best friends and I were teaming up on a project for our college newspaper – a package of articles on emergency medical services in our community. We’d done our research on funding and staffing and statistics and all the “boring stuff”. Now it was time for the fun part: A night with the graveyard shift at the downtown hospital in ER.

It was a busy night… a heat stroke… an overdose… a stabbing. I though, for a while, that the stabbing might be the highlight of the evening.

But then the cops wheeled in the man clasping a bloody rag to his groin area.

It didn’t take finely honed journalistic instincts to know that was gonna be a story to tell.

Now, my first response was pity for the poor guy. I mean, a bullet to the family jewels? How can you not feel for that? (In fact, I bet male readers are even now wincing and crossing their legs.)

But, I have to admit: I was a little excited when the ER surgeon told me it was a gunshot wound to the scrotum. I mean, seriously, how often do you get to write about something like that?

Reporters will tell you that if you don’t hook your reader by your first sentence, you’re done. But Professor Flynn took it a step further. He taught us that you have to hook your reader with your first three words. He called them “Golden Words“.

And if you thought that I was inappropriately excited about this poor guy’s genital trauma… you should have seen the The Old Man’s face when I brought him those Golden Words. He grinned so big I thought his face might split open.

Silly me… green little cub reporter that I was: I’d put the scrotal suffering at the end of my second sentence.

Flynn just looked at me deadpan and said, “Oh, no. Anytime you have a gunshot to the scrotum, you gotta lead with it“.

In all my years as a writer, that is hands-down my favourite lead ever. There’ve been other good and memorable First Lines in my career, but that one will always hold a special place in my memory.

Now that I’ve sold my soul and crossed over to the dark-side (as my former colleagues like to refer to my move from journalism to public relations), I just don’t get the opportunity to write those kinds of leads any more.

Every now and then, I kind of miss them.

But I haven’t forgotten the lessons learnt. I still try to find the “Golden Words” in everything I write. I do that by thinking about my readers and my goal: What do they care about? What do they need to know? What is the most important thing I need to share with them?

But the inverted pyramid is not enough.

In today’s fast-paced world, most readers are only ready to ‘commit’ to the first sentence of your copy. Is that sentence going to intrigue or inspire or amuse them enough to go on to the next?

And the next?

And the next?

How do you grab your readers?


About the author

ZenMom can be seen around kilobox communiqué and the web, and is actively involved with writing, blogging and community. You can read her work (including this article) over at Improving the Silence (Zencomm).

  1. A great post; thought provoking and amusing :)

    I’m currently planning marketing strategies for my tiny business, and shall think carefully about choosing ‘golden words’ when communicating my plans to my customers.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Jules.

    I admit that I am not always able to find the golden words to lead off every piece of copy. But I find that just keeping it in mind helps me to punch up that all-important first sentence.

    Oh, and Wedge: Nice graphic. :)

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