When new writers sit down to tap out a story, many turn to “the question” as a way to begin telling it. For example:
• Have you ever wanted to ski in the summer?
• Need a break from the sun and sand while visiting South Florida?
• With seven hours before our flight, tequila tasting just seemed like a good use of our time — right?
All these questions have one unfortunate trait in common: A reader can answer them, quickly, with the word, “no.”
That makes them all poor choices for your story’s lead.
You want your reader to come to your article in a positive frame of mind. You want your lead to open the door and invite your reader in to explore your ideas with you. But if the first thought your reader has is “no,” you’re effectively slamming that door instead of swinging it open in welcome.
Does that mean you should never use questions to begin a story? Not necessarily.
But understand that “yes-no” questions are problematic. You should use these only sparingly.
They’re safest when you’re writing to an audience that’s very narrow. Use a question that can be answered with “yes” or no” only if you’re writing to readers you feel extremely confident will answer with a “yes.”
Writing to knitters, for instance, it might well be safe to ask, “Would you like a year’s supply of yarn for the price of a single skein?”
Writing to parents of toddler travelers, it would be reasonable to inquire, “Looking for a way to get a little ‘alone-time’ when traveling with babies in tow?”
A safer approach to “the question” — and a good travel writing tip to keep in mind — is to frame it so that a straight up “yes” or “no” doesn’t really work in response.
I suggest you use either of these two question strategies, both of which are designed to elicit a response of “Huh… that’s an intriguing question…”
1. Use “How…”
• How would you like to vacation in Paris like royalty… but on a backpacker’s budget?
• How would you like to retire 10 years early?
• How do savvy flight attendants avoid jet lag?
Now, it’s possible a reader might respond to any of these in the negative. Maybe your reader doesn’t care about Paris or retirement or jet-lag-avoidance tricks. Fine. Not every topic is right for every reader. But at least these questions avoid eliciting that visceral “no,” which is so immediately and sub-consciously off-putting.
2. Use “What if…”
• What if you could spend a month in a villa in Italy… for the price of an overnight stay at a low-budget motel in Kansas?
• What if you could get paid to travel in Portugal?
• What if you could “test-drive” the life of a bookstore owner… and do it for free (in Ireland)?
I like this construction because it forces the reader to imagine. It forces him or her to consider your proposition, if you will… and that’s engaging.
Questions can be powerful. They can get your reader interested in the subject you’re writing about. But the trick is to ask the right question… in the right way.
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