A narrative story elaborates on a sequence of events that happens over time. The first lines in a narrative must grab a reader’s attention and encourage him to continue reading the story. He should experience feelings such as anger, sympathy, wonder, amusement or curiosity. Narrative grabbers, also called “hooks,” draw readers into a story. These attention grabbers make an impression on your readers and provide an effective start to your essay.
Provoke your readers with a startling statement -- something they didn’t expect. You can combine statistics with a personal experience. For example, you could write, “One in four children is bullied on a regular basis in U. S. schools, according to BullyingStatistics.org. When I enrolled as a freshman in high school last year, I had no idea that I would become one of those statistics.” You will surprise readers with the facts, and they’ll be sympathetic to your plight.
Inject humor into your essay with a funny or absurd notion. Consider who your readers are and relate to them in a relevant manner. Make sure the humor is appropriate. If your audience is a group of middle-school students, you might tickle their fancy with a comical opening about your school dance fiasco: “My enthusiasm for the school dance suddenly turned to horror when I realized the pants I wore weren’t designed for doing splits.”
Readers see and hear your narrative when you use direct quotations. They also get an inside glimpse into the feeling and emotion of your story. For example, if you’re relaying a time when fire erupted in your home, the introduction draws readers in and becomes a sensory experience when you quote family members: "'Get out of the house now!' shouted Mom. 'Don’t stop to take anything with you!' yelled Dad. Our family’s peaceful sleep swiftly turned into a terrifying nightmare when an unrelenting fire swept through our home last summer."
Paint a picture with words, and your readers will instantly visualize the scene and make a connection. Include sensory details that establish a sense of time and place. If your narrative was about sports, you could write, “The spectators in the high school gymnasium could probably hear my heart pounding. I was afraid the basketball would slip from my trembling, slippery hands. Would I make this shot or let the fans down?” This type of attention grabber puts readers directly into the scene.
Reinforce what you’re about to say with a thought-provoking question. When you begin a narrative with a question, you’re making a point, not seeking an answer. An open-ended question causes readers to become inquisitive about what will follow. If you’re relaying a bad experience with foster care, you’ll grab readers’ attention when you ask, “How would you feel if you spent your entire childhood being shipped from one foster home to another? Welcome to my world.” They’ll quickly formulate theories about how they’d feel if they were in your shoes. They’ll want to hear your story.
Stimulating Sound Effects
Onomatopoeia is the use of words to create sound effects. They might be car or animal noises or the drip of water. These sounds add an appealing element to a narrative story. If you open an essay with a sentence such as, “This was the worst storm I’d ever seen,” you run the risk of boring your readers. Instead, hook them with sound effects. “Crash! Crack! Boom! The lights in our house went out and the screen door slammed shut. We knew it was time to batten down the hatches.”
Karen LoBello is coauthor of “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition.” She began writing in 2009, following a career as a Nevada teacher. LoBello holds a bachelor's degree in K-8 education, a secondary degree in early childhood education and a master's degree in computer education.