I'm sure we can all agree that writing the intro to an article is the most unpleasant part of writing. As with anything in life, getting started is the hard part. Difficult to write a good introduction. Too easy to resort to cliches, even if its just to get the creative juices flowing. And that's fine -- except for when you forget to rewrite that drab paragraph out because you're too spent to continue editing. I've been in that position a lot, as have you lot, I'm certain. So: let's help each other out.
Let's talk introductions.
Your first few sentences are the most important. They're what draw the reader in, coax them into reading the full piece as opposed to skimming it or even outright skipping it. That also makes them the most arduous, soul-crushingly difficult part of the process. How can you ensure the reader will stick around? Won't the subject matter be enough? After all, if it's something they're interested in, surely they'll stick around for the rest of the article, or at least give it a shot, right?
No. Readers are a fickle sort. They're impatient, constantly tempted by a thousand other distractions. You have to make a case for them to spend their valuable time reading what you wrote, why they should be paying attention to your work as opposed to one of the million other writers out there vying for the same attention. You have to put your best words forward every time. Can't cut corners.
There's no such thing as a perfect introduction. There are literally thousands of approaches at your disposal, some more effective than others. Sure some may be more appropriate for certain pieces than others, but nothing so handy as a one size fits all. Ideally, your choice of opening should relate to the subject and form for the article you're writing. It should be a natural fit because it flows, not because its seen as some ridiculous standard. (The ol' historical intro and reviews, for instance. Why everyone seems to think kicking things off with a history lesson is the right thing to do is beyond me. It's dreadfully boring.) Maybe that's a personal anecdote, or an interesting fact, or something else entirely. It all depends on the article in question and what it seeks to impart.
In a review I wrote for Metro: Last Light, for example, I began by talking about the atmosphere as a means of discussing what playing the game feels like while also setting the tone for the review to follow. Have a look:
Crawling through the murky tunnels of the Russian metro system never ceases to terrify. Growls and footsteps echo through the deafening silence as darkness enshrouds the area, keeping you on constant guard. Monsters lurk all over, always stalking you extensively before striking. A flashlight and lighter are your only means of illuminating the shadows, their paltry shine a small comfort against the horrors that prowl.
Metro isn't a horror game by any stretch, but its use of lighting and sound instill a sense of fear and tension as you wander through the dark, abandoned locales it takes you through. That, to me, defined Metro. And so I decided that would be the best way to kick off the review. It tells the readers immediately whether the game is for them or not while also piquing their interest. From a distance, it looks like just another post-apocalyptic first-person shooter. Only it's not, which is what the intro set out to convey
In another article -- this one on trial and error in games -- I employed two different games as examples of both good and bad uses of trial and error. The games being Limbo and Demon's Souls.
A few months ago, I played Limbo, Playdead's gloomy, award-winning platformer. It was going swell at first. Traversal was simple, the atmosphere was appropriately thick with tension and mystery, and the visuals were beautiful. Unfortunately, the game was riddled with nigh-unavoidable "gotcha!" deaths -- seemingly scripted death sequences that can't be dodged without prior knowledge of each one's placement. Jump on a rope and a bear trap falls from the ceiling; run along a log and a boulder will suddenly come rolling. In both cases, I was never able to evade them on the first encounter.
I started scanning the area for signs. Wasn't about to let the game get the better of me. But it did, because there were no signs. Activation was the only way I'd know where the damn things were, and when they finally seemed like they'd give me chance, by the time they appeared, it was too late: I was already dead, anyway.
This is trial and error at its worst.
* * *
I started From Software's highly acclaimed, brutally difficult role-playing game, Demon's Souls, as well. I read countless horror stories on its unforgiving nature, so I braced myself accordingly. I moved slowly, fought cautiously. Got killed plenty of times even so, but no matter how much I failed, it never felt like the game was at fault.
Every death was solely on me. Whether because I was too careless or just not fast enough to avoid a fatal blow, I knew I screwed up. Thus, I'd try again. And again. And again, until I finally got it. Because with each failed attempt, victory got ever closer. Through each failure I learned how to battle the environment and monsters. What strategies to employ under what circumstances.
I learned how to play Demons Souls.
This is trial and error at its best.
It's a longer intro, slowly drawing the reader further in until they reach the core of the article, by which point I've already got them. I could have started with a tirade on the concept and its history (which I do touch on briefly after the above paragraphs), but that wouldn't have been interesting. By beginning with a couple of experiences I've had with games that use it well and not-so-well, it gives the reader a more fascinating lead. Something they can relate to, even. I could have done better to insert myself, since they suggest the article focuses on myself despite the rest of the article not doing so, but that's a topic for another thread.
That's what a good intro does. It pulls the reader in while also explaining the subject and goal of the article, whether succinctly or steadily.
I could bring up more examples, but I'd rather you folks take over. I'm sure you all have plenty of great examples of what a proper, strong opening looks like. Or at least some additional tips I overlooked.