Readers read to be enthralled. Not just at the beginning, but *all the way through* the email, article, blog, screenplay or novel.
This is called “laying down gold coins” in the book Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark — who, despite his name, sadly is not related to either Superman or Spiderman.
Mr. Clark explains it this way: If you were walking down a path and found a gold coin, walked a bit further and spotted another coin, what would you do? Keep walking!
Or, if you if you have watched as many movies as I have, you instantly think it’s a trap. A lure designed by ingenious stick up artists who, having planted the golden bait, now crouched with loaded weapons behind a copse of trees just down the path.
Despite my paranoia, I would likely grab the first two coins and hightail it out of there.
The Real Point
Never forget the reader. Keep adding words, phrases, sentences, descriptions, actions, events, revelations and twists to maintain reader interest.
Every few paragraphs (at least), lay down a gold coin. Whet the reader’s appetite for what is to come.
If I’ve done my job, this blog is an example of the technique in action.
Can you spot the gold coins I’ve attempted to lay out for you above?
- The images
- The gold coin explanation
- My paranoia story
- Headings, subheadings
- Asking you questions
- This bulleted list
Here’s another example from fiction. Let’s use the first page from Dean Koontz’s novel Ashley Bell.
Notice the interesting, musical name, Bibi Blair in the first sentence – that is a gold coin – followed quickly by the capitalized word “Death” (another coin). Death coming after her, no less.
Notice the description, “grim vault of sorrow” which hints at threat – gold coin – and “angels cried down flood after flood”, a gold coin promising bad things to come.
Then we get the interesting twist of short stories about a dog named Jasper. Stories of struggle, impermenance. These, too, are gold coins in the shape of surprise. Or at least the unexpected. The subtext of the dog stories? More gold.
Finally, notice Koontz’s use of anticipation (foreshadowing) as he refers several times to future events. Death coming after Bibi and the girl, then a young woman, excavating truth.
This is a single page, albeit the critical first one. Koontz is a master.
Let’s summarize the gold coins he used:
- Character name
- Contextual description
- Sentence structure
- Word choice
Key Takeaway: At regular intervals, remind readers to keep reading.