The Intriguing Opening

We’ve become all too used to clickbait headlines we see on the web (“10 Surefire Ways to Lose Weight: You Won’t Believe #7”). Creating intrigue is a valid approach, but we shouldn’t follow the formula of being somewhat misleading and crassly provocative. Better options are available. 

Making readers curious is the flipside of the thesis opening. Instead of being straightforward, we are oblique and mysterious. We rouse their interest, and in doing so encourage them to keep reading to find out what we mean, how what we say could be true, or what will happen next.

You may not believe me, but I have news about global warming: Good news, and better news.

Noah Smith, “The End of Global Warming,” The Atlantic

Smith sets up a thesis that is contrary to much conventional wisdom, but he doesn’t exactly tell us how this could be the case. We definitely want to read the next sentence. 

The following one-page prologue offers us a gripping mystery.

It was predictable, in hindsight. Everything about the history of the Society of Jesus bespoke deft and efficient action, exploration and research. During what Europeans were pleased to call the Age of Discovery, Jesuit priests were never more than a year or two behind the men who made initial contact with previously unknown peoples; indeed, Jesuits were often the vanguard of exploration…..

The mission to Rakhat was undertaken not so much secretly as privately – a fine distinction but one that the Society felt no compulsion to explain or justify when the news broke several years later.

The Jesuit scientists were to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem  Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.

They meant no harm.

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow

In this novel about making first contact with an unknown culture, the first line and the last line of the prologue set off a string of issues: What was predictable in hindsight? How could their good intentions go so horribly wrong? And what exactly did go wrong? These questions drive us to the end of the book to find out what happened and why.
from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press