THE ART OF ASKING QUESTIONS
After completing my first feature-length article, I received a mini-lesson on the art of asking questions in your writing to keep the reader’s interest. In order to be effective and engaging, each paragraph should begin and end with a question – not literally, of course – a sort of literary catapult that moves the reader, and the writing, forward.
For example, take this sentence:
When I arrived at my guest house, a special turndown present of olive oils, vinegars, and recipes nestled in my down pillows. It was signed by Chef Jean Lauzeral.
Now, these are solid sentences. They are grammatically correct and portray complete thoughts. They have subjects, verbs, and periods at the end. But are they engaging? Do they conjure up a question or a motivation in the reader’s mind? Not really.
A better opening would be:
Chef Jean Lauzeral’s gifts a signature keepsake to all of La Via Notte’s visitors – and it’s not served with dinner. When I arrived at my guest house, I discovered a special turndown present: Nestled in my down pillows was a ribbon-wrapped gift of olive oils, vinegars, and recipes.
See the difference? Instead of flat out stating what happened (“When I arrived at my guest house …”), there is an added element of suspense. The reader must question: What is the chef’s special gift? Why doesn’t it come with dinner? The reader doesn’t solve the mystery until late in the second sentence, when they discover that the gift is a basket of oils, vinegars, and recipes. Notice that these sentences seem to be more descriptive – adding details like “signature keepsake,” “nestled,” and “ribbon-wrapped” help vamp up the sentence. Adding these details and elements of mystery help propel the story along, piquing the interest of the reader.
Let’s try another example.
Steeped in the wine country traditions of France and Italy, LaVia Notte offers unpretentious American cuisine that embraces organic ingredients from the farmers in Napa Valley and Northern California, while beautifully complementing the varied bounty of the local vintners. And at La Via Notte Ranch, wine is king.
But despite his rich menu and generous spirit, it is not Chef Lauzeral that reigns supreme at La Via Notte’s Lakehouse. It is wine that is king.
While certainly more of an art than a science, good copywriting should always try to engage the reader by offering them tidbits of information, essentially leading them to read on. Think of it like that old horse-and-carrot trick.