“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
We’d all love for this to be true. Whether it’s our untapped potential, inner character, or perhaps our Continuous Writing paper, we want people to look beneath the surface instead of making snap judgments.
The reality is, however, that first impressions do matter. Untapped potential doesn’t mean much if you can’t speak well during the job interview. Nobody will read your book if the first chapter is boring.
Luckily, in the case of Continuous Writing, the graders must finish reading your entire composition before giving you a score.
But that doesn’t mean you can be lazy when writing your introduction. In fact, an amazing introduction will make your composition stand out in their minds – and therefore get you a higher mark at the end of the day.
So let’s get right into how exactly to craft a great introduction.
What Does an Introduction Do?
Simply put, an introduction sets the scene. It’s here that a reader gets to know the main characters (protagonists) of the story, where they are, what they’re doing, and so on.
For Continuous Writing, it’s essential to answer the 5 W’s and 1 H:
Who is the story about?
What are the characters doing?
Where are the characters located in the story?
When does the story take place?
Why are the characters there at that time?
How do the characters feel?
You don’t have to squeeze all of this into the first few lines, but you do want to make sure you cover it in the first half of the story.
Four Ways to Write a Great Introduction
Amazing introductions don’t just outline the 5 W’s and 1 H. They draw the reader into the story, making them want to read more.
There are four main ways to do this: action, curiosity, sound, and speech.
Let’s go through each of the A/C/S/S methods in detail.
This method begins the story by telling the reader what the protagonist is doing.
Here’s an example of this in action (nudge nudge, get it?):
Alvin Soh stared at the bank check that his mother had placed on the table beside him. He was counting up the zeroes in the amount. Mr Mystery: The Mystery of the Sydney Slayings by James Lee
This introduction works by using verbs to describe the actions of the main character, giving you a little glimpse into his personality. You also get an idea of the setting. In this case, the main character is indoors and sitting alone, some time after his mother had left.
Truth be told, all introductions should make readers curious.
You want them to be wondering, “Oh, what happened here? What’s going to happen next?” That way, they’ll keep reading to find out.
But there are certain introductions that stir up curiosity more than others.
Take a look at this example:
Life was going along okay when my mother and father dropped the news. Bam! Just like that. Superfudge by Judy Blume
If you’re wondering what exactly the big news was, this introduction worked its magic.
(By the way, you’ll have to read the book to find out.)
Here’s another example of an introduction that stirs up curiosity:
It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful. Matilda by Roald Dahl
This one makes you wonder: who is this child? What is he or she really like?
It’s an effective way to introduce one of the main characters (perhaps an antagonist) of the story.
Ever been woken up by the sound of birds chirping outside your window?
Or perhaps you recognize the sizzle of dinner cooking on the stove.
This type of introduction works on a similar principle: it uses sound to evoke a sense of familiarity (or intrigue).
Take this introduction from Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia for example:
Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity. Good. His dad had the pick-up going. He could get up now. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
This strange-sounding pickup truck almost makes you giggle a little. It also adds a bit of quirkiness or eccentricity to the story, so it captures your attention.
Dialogue is one of the easiest ways to introduce a character’s personality along with the setting. It isn’t appropriate for every story, but many stories do work well with such an introduction.
Here’s an example of how speech can be used to open up a story:
“I’ll race you to the corner, Ellen!” Annemarie adjusted the thick leather pack on her back so that her schoolbooks balanced evenly. “Ready?” She looked at her best friend. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Here, you’re immediately introduced to two main characters: Annemarie and her best friend, Ellen. You also get an idea of their age (since they’re still in school), the setting, and their personalities.
Common Introductions to Avoid
Now that we’ve covered the four ways to write a great introduction, we should also talk about how not to write an introduction.
Here are a couple of potholes to avoid if you want to improve your composition.
Bad Intro #1: The Cliched Introductions
You’re probably no stranger to stories that open with the line, “Once upon a time…”
But even though these fairy tales hold a special place in our childhoods, I don’t recommend following their example.
Other cliched introductions to avoid are the ones taken from the model compositions in assessment books, like this:
Fluffy white clouds floated across the azure blue sky. The sun shone brightly through Jeremiah’s window, waking him up from a deep sleep.
Grammar-wise, it works fine. What’s bad about it is that it’s overused – and usually irrelevant to the main plot of the story.
You run the risk of losing points for going off-topic, so eliminate the fluff whenever possible.
Bad Intro #2: Sounds and Dialogue that Don’t Add Value
We also want to think through how we use sound or speech to open up a story.
For instance, this speech-based introduction is terribly uninspired:
“Hello,” said Gregory. “Hey!” Jenny responded. “Did you manage to finish the mathematics homework yesterday?” asked Gregory.
The boring opening leaves you with zero desire to continue on with the rest of the story.
On the other hand, if we move to a different point in the conversation, it might be a little more appealing:
“I am in trouble,” said Gregory. “I was trying to figure out the mathematics problems all last night, but they are too difficult for me. What if I fail the test again?”
Not the happiest introduction, but it does hold a little more interest – mainly because you can sense the despair the character is feeling.
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