You know what leads are for, right? You draw people into your story with them. Or, if you’re writing a query letter, it’s where you get the editor’s attention. But then what? What happens next?
You make readers want to keep reading.
Journalists call this paragraph your “nut graph” and it’s where you prove to readers that it’s worth their time to keep reading and why they’ll enjoy doing so. If you’re writing something really serious, you may think that enjoyment isn’t a factor, but it’s always a factor. It doesn’t mean that they’ll be happily enjoying. Enjoyment means deriving benefit from, and so learning about something can be enjoyment, too.
So, for example, let’s say you’re writing about something very dark, such as murder. No one enjoys murder, but they may derive benefit from knowing that someone was murdered in their community. That’s why TV news always adds stories of this type because people enjoy learning about them. Doesn’t make them happy that someone was murdered, unless they’re a unique form of weirdo, but you understand what I mean, right?
Back to that nut graph. If you want people to take enjoyment from what you write, then… you need to give them an idea of why they will. So, let’s start our story with this lead:
At 7:47 on November 21, a body was discovered in the 200 block of Main Street. Later, police determined that it was the body of 45-year-old Samantha Adams of 235 Main Street, but cause of death is yet to be determined. From all reports, it appears that foul play may have been a factor.
OK, sad news. Foul play — always interesting to most people. They want to find out why. Who done it? That’s why murder mysteries are so popular, right? Here’s why people should care to read more:
Adams, a primary grades teacher at Green Acres Elementary, was beloved by the community, and her death shocked this quiet neighborhood to its core. At first glance, it appeared that she died from natural causes. No blood was found on or near the body and there was no sign of a struggle. Yet, on further investigation, police found evidence to suggest that Adams’ death could have been murder. Now, the neighbors are up in arms, worried about where a killer might strike next.
Huh. What could that mean? Did she teach anyone’s kids I know? My own? Why was she so beloved? What did she do? What will I find out about the cause of death? Lots of questions are unanswered in your reader’s mind. And you’re hinting that you’ll be telling them more in the rest of the piece. Think they’ll keep reading? They probably will.
Anytime you can leave questions in someone’s mind, you’re leading them. That’s why cliffhangers are important in novels and television series. People don’t like to have questions that aren’t answered.
Anyway, that’s your nut graph. Give the readers a reason to go on and they will.