Close
Close

On Hamburgers and Hooks: How to Effortlessly FIND (Not Write) Your Compelling First Line

This is a guest contribution from Kelly Diels-Rostant.

Hamburger

Image courtesy of Suat Eman FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Where’s The Beef?” asked the lil’ ol’ lady and in so doing launched her late-blooming acting career.

It was 1984. Clare Peller was eighty-four years old. It was her first acting gig and it was a hit. Her Wendy’s spot spawned a series of follow-up commercials, launched a slew of licensing and merchandising deals (t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, oh my!), and became an instant cultural catch-phrase.

It may even have turned the tide of a presidential primary. In a televised debate, listening to presidential hopeful Gary Hart talk about his “new ideas”, rival Walter F. Mondale leaned forward and said, “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?’”.

Mondale, not Hart, won the democratic nomination. That’s the power of a pithy, provocative phrase. A hook. The beef. And your blog post has got to have it.

So let me tell you where your blog post beef is: it’s the best, most quotable line of your piece, and I promise you it’s already there.

Really, it’s there. You already wrote it. It’s just in the wrong place.

But first, a little background.

The most quotable line of your blog post could – and should – be the first line. The hook. Hook your readers.

In conventional newspaper journalism, the first line of the piece is the entire piece: Who. What. When. Were. Maybe even how and why. All in one line. The way if the reader stops reading right there after the first line (bad reader! lazy reader!), she still got everything she needed to know.

Which means she can stop reading, yes?

NO.

Is that what you want your blog readers to do? Stop reading after the first line?

So that’s instructive. To write effective, compelling, must-read blog posts, accept the dramatic imperative of classical journalism and hook your reader with the first sentence. Then abandon the methodology – do NOT spill the who, what, where, when or how. At least not yet.

Write hooks, instead, which means don’t give it all away the first line. In fact, don’t lead with any context at all. Context can come later, in the second pararaph, or even later, in the second section of your post.

Because the more provocative, mysterious and insensible the first line, the better the hook. Your reader has to keep reading to figure it out.

Mwahahaha.

That was my evil bloggess laugh. It’s genetic. For example, remarking upon my progeny – one of whom is the incomparable, six year old Lola whose first viewing of 101 Dalmatians provoked her to confide, I really like that evil girl [Cruella DeVille], I like her style Amanda Farough once said, “She’s only one bad science experiment away from becoming an evil genius.”

True dat.

I digress. Sort of. But like any good villainess/bloggess, I do have a signature, sneaky trick in reserve.

It’s a guide to finding your blog post hook in one step.

Notice I said hook finding, not hook writing.

IMPORTANT: I want you to avoid performance anxiety – I mean writer’s block – because so far, there’s no little blue pill for that. Alas. Because if I sit down and try to write The Best First Line Ever, a hot-and-sexy hook, I won’t be able to get my writerly mojo up…so lo, the page will remain blank. Unloved.

But.

If I just write and write and write until I’m finished (I call this Draft Zero because it’s the utterly unselfconscious and necessary blathering that precedes what writer Anne Lamott calls The Shitty First Draft) and then go back and ask,

Where’s The Beef?

AKA

Where’s the Quote?

Then and only then can I get it on. That’s when I’ll find it: the great line I’ve already written. The hook.

And you can, too.

So, when you’re hook-finding, ask yourself this:

Where’s the beef? If you were a reader, what line would tickle, stroke or slap you? Where’s the leap-frogging, cart-wheeling, caterwauling sentence that demands to be known? Where’s the wisdom? Where’s the beef? The quote? Doncha wanna give good quote?

Yes, you do – and if you can’t find a few foundational, architectural phrases that transform your piece from sentences laid end-to-end into “arcades and domes”, then your Draft Zero work is not done.

But if you seek, you will find them: arcadian, majestic, domestic lines of genius already embedded in your blog post. They’re there because you let yourself write them.

Yep, it’s true: there are gorgeous phrases and stunning sentences already in your blog post just waiting to be relocated to where they really belong.

And one of them is your hook. It’s already there, you already wrote it, you just have to find it.

That’s why this exercise is called Hook Finding, not Hook Writing.

So that’s all you have to do.

Flow, write, finish, realize you’re not finished (editing is 90% of real writing), ask yourself, where’s the quote?, and voila! there’s your hook. Cut ‘n paste to the first line -

        which will, inevitably suggest a new narrative arc and the direction for subsequent editing, hallelujah!

 - then revise your piece to support and amplify your new hook, answer the hook in the last line…

…and just like that, you’ll have a hook AND a cohesive, compelling, must-read blog post.

So that’s how you find your blog post’s hook and then use your hook to tie it all together. Tie it up.

Some people like it like that.

Like, your reader.

The one who was hooked. The one who read your piece right through to the end.

And like the hamburger-eating public. Asking Where’s the Beef? increased Wendy’s annual revenue by 31%. One stunning phrase in the right place – a television commercial, a presidential campaign, the first line of a blog post – can change everything.

So please sally forth right now and find your hook. Yum.

—————

The Moral of the Story in Four Short Tweetables*:

  1. Asking yourself “Where’s The Beef?” works for burgers AND blog posts. (click to tweet)

  2. The more provocative, mysterious and insensible the first line, the better the hook. (click to tweet)

  3. “She’s only one bad science experiment away from becoming an evil genius.” (click to tweet)

  4. Hook Finding 101: Write; reread your work; ask yourself, “Where’s The Quote?”; and voila! Hook, found. (click to tweet)

*Wanna know how I wrote these tweets? I didn’t. I found them already written in my post. Yup, hook-finding works for crafting Tweetables, too.

Kelly Diels-Rostant is the evil villainess/writer-for-hire responsible for Cleavage.
About Guest Blogger

This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. If you'd like to guest post for ProBlogger check out our Write for ProBlogger page for details about how YOU can share your tips with our community.

Problogger.net runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. Genesis provides the secure and search-engine-optimized foundation that takes WordPress to places you never thought it could go.

Check out the incredible features and the selection of designs. It's that simple - start using Genesis now!

Comments

  1. Jim says:

    This might be one of the most helpful posts I’ve ever read on this site. Definitely using it to help write blog posts in the future!

  2. I didn’t bother much about first line, but what I have learned through years of blogging is first line really matter! It should be a cache one and informative.
    Any way nice post!

  3. That was an interesting read. I realized I have been doing this practice for long, but not properly. Like, I always took few words and made them titles/blog headings.

    So, I guess this was my hidden beef! ;)

  4. Kiesha says:

    Hi Kelly,

    This a wonderfully insightful post! You’ve made it so that writing a hook isn’t so intimidating – most of us are in too much of a rush to realize that we’ve already written it and that we just have to go back and find it. But what happens when you can’t find it? Is that a sign that you need to go back and rewrite the post because it’s probably missing the meat – the most valuable part of a post in the first place? I love this – I also loved how you created those awesome tweets just by digging into your content. Nice.

    • Kelly Diels says:

      Honestly, I’ve never NOT found it, in my work, or, when I’m editing, in the work of others.

      If you wrote for more than half an hour – so as to get into your creative zone – you WILL find it or I owe you a dollar.

      And you know where to find me, yes?

      xoxo
      K

  5. I’m new to blogging and am in the process of writing my first posts. Since I start with a handwritten free association type of draft this method will work beautifully for me.

    • Kelly Diels says:

      Yes, it will. You’re starting perfectly. Free association will let the good lines flow. Then you can just pick and choose – hook; title; tweetables, hurray!

  6. This is one of those great reminder posts. It’s something that I’ve done before – because it makes total sense – yet it seems to be one of the things that slips off my checklist before I hit publish. I love the idea of putting yourself in your reader’s shoes and asking “What would slap me in the face”. That’s powerful. Thanks – will definitely share with my startup team.

    • Kelly Diels says:

      Justin, I’m so glad to hear you’re going to pass it on. It’s so easy, and after a couple of iterations, it becomes automatic.

      (and thanks for the feedback!)

      K

  7. Philip Alex says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Awesome post, the first paragraph of my posts is actually my worst nightmare.

    It probably takes me the most to write, but once I have it written everything else just flows.

    This is the best tip I’ve read so far on writing blog posts.

    Thanks for sharing this Kelly, you’ve actually made my life a whole lot easier.

    PPhilip

    • Kelly Diels says:

      Philip, Philip, PHILIP: thank you for such a lovely compliment. It’s so good to know hook-finding might help you out. Can’t wait to see how it goes (I’ll be watching…).

      K

  8. Mike Patrick says:

    Besides a good hook, accuracy counts too. It’s CLARA Peller.

  9. james says:

    First line makes impression or should I say first paragraph. As its says ” first impression is the last impression” and what I have experience that first paragraph should be in a way that keep visitor to read more.

  10. akash says:

    nice post.thanks

  11. Tash Hughes says:

    Love your idea, Kelly :)

    I always just write and write then go back and cut out the nonsense and rearrange bits and pieces but I like this approach to finding a hook in amongst what you’ve already written. Simple. Beautiful.

    Made me think – just give ‘em the hook and leave the line and sinker for later :)

    • Kelly Diels says:

      Cute, very cute.

      Hook-finding works for titles, too. I find it helps not to start pieces by trying to write those critical bits. Way less chance of writer’s block.

      • Tash Hughes says:

        Other than a working document name, I rarely write a title before I finish writing the post/article/whatever – that way I’m sure it suits the writing and have more ideas for a catchier title :)

  12. Paul says:

    Wow thanks for this excellent post. I usually write and re-read my own posts numerous times but I never thought about looking for the “meat” and using them for the “Hook”. The 4 tips in the “Moral of the Story” paragraph is a great writing exercise.

    • Kelly Diels says:

      The Moral of the Story bit is a new thing I’ve just started doing. It helps me clarify my message, helps people in a hurry get what they need, AND wildly increases how much the piece gets shared.

      Steal this idea. I insist.

  13. Steve Faber says:

    Kelly,

    Great post! I’ve been writing professionally for a decade and that is one of the best pieces of simplification advice I’ve heard.You’re right. It’s all about the headline, because no matter how prolific your prose, or engaging your writing, if they never stop to read, because your headline fails to reel them in, your hard work writing and editing is all for naught.

    Once again Darren, you’ve hit a home run in the guest posting department.

    Thanks,

    Steve

  14. Humor is also a good hook. That’s what kept me reading this post. I felt the momentum slipping but some fun lines were thrown in there to keep things moving along when the grind was a little much.

  15. Ken says:

    Great post Kelly – When I first started blogging, had plenty of first line ideas, but after some time it started to become more of a chore – started using a method similar to yours, and now its fun again!

  16. Awesome post and great idea. I’ll be trying this for my next few articles.

  17. Excellent post – this is definitely an area in which I need to work. My blog post titles are not nearly as interesting as they should be.

  18. Debra Eve says:

    Kelly, thanks for the shout out! I learned this technique from you and STILL struggle with finding that hook, a nasty byproduct of wanting to write perfectly from line one. No more. I’ll just think of Clara and look for the beef later :)

    • Kelly Diels says:

      Hi Debra – I think the most useful thing I’ve ever done is give myself permission to write ANYTHING – well or badly – in Draft Zero. Then I edit relentlessly. The urge to write perfectly is death to my creativity (so I know what you mean!). So yes, let’s think of Clara…later.

  19. This was really exciting and helpful, thank you!

  20. Interesting article. I have to say, the word, “hamburgers,” caught my attention. The picture helped, too. Hamburgers are a great hook :)

  21. Ryan Adams says:

    Great Post. In-fact it’s not easy for a Newbie writer to master the art of copy writing & it should come with experience. However a good tips like these will definitely help.