by Dana Sitar
Everyone loses readers to distractions, boredom, low attention spans, time constraints, obligations — any number of things that have nothing to do with your writing talent. So, what if your reader puts down your book in the middle of the introduction and never gets a chance to fall in love with your main character? How do you get her to remember you — and possibly come back?
News reporters pioneered the solution to this problem ages ago, and fiction writers can follow in their footsteps to craft solid, concise stories. If you’re worried that your first paragraph or first pages aren’t capturing your readers’ attention, try the “inverted pyramid” method of story-writing.
What is the inverted pyramid?
A style that addresses the issue of limited space in a printed paper and the tenuous connection of a telegraph machine, the inverted pyramid can also be a creative way for you craft compelling stories that keep your readers interested.
The pyramid is a visual used to demonstrate leading with the most important information of a story, with other details following in order of diminishing importance. As the image shows, this style of writing is top-heavy. You open with the meat: the most vital of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of your story. Craft a lead sentence that draws readers in with an understanding of exactly why they’re reading.
How to use the inverted pyramid for fiction
Rather than carry on for pages with a vague description of the location and elusive pronouns to describe a faceless main character in hopes that the reader wants to keep reading to learn more, just give it to them! Give readers what they need to know early on: Where does the POV come from? Who are the main characters, and why are they in this setting? What’s the setting?
Unlike in journalism, you don’t necessarily want to craft your fiction to allow for readers to stop reading the story. Although the inverted pyramid lets you do that, it can also be a way to get your readers invested in the story. If they know the characters they’re dealing with and what major issue they’re facing, readers just might be interested in continuing. If you parse details out too slowly, you risk losing a reader’s interest, driving them to leave the story before they even know what it’s about.
Here are three simple steps to crafting a story using the inverted pyramid method:
1. Answer the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of your story
2. Rank the information gathered from those questions in order of most important (6) through least (1).
3. Write a story that shares the information in descending order of the rank (6, 5…1)
Caution: This is NOT a back-story dump!
Although you want to give useful information early, this style of story-writing is not an excuse to overwhelm your readers with trifling details from the get-go. When you read a news piece, you don’t get a subject’s full history up front, but you still understand the story. You’re given the characters, the setting, and — most importantly — the ACTION right away, and smaller details are left for later or not included at all.
Can we try an experiment?
Here’s your homework! (Don’t worry, I won’t be checking; you’re responsible for yourself here.) Write a piece of Friday Flash this week using the inverted pyramid method. Imagine that you’ve got only three minutes with the most important person you know, and you have to tell your most interesting life story. What are the vital details, and how do you use them to capture his attention?
If you’re feeling bold, publish your story and share a link in the comments!
Thanks for having me, Julie I look forward to what you all create.
Thank you Dana! I love this post and am so thankful you stopped over to share it. I love the inverted pyramid concept, and I plan to work with it in my new WIP. I’m in the planning/plotting phases, so the timing is *perfect*. Can’t wait to get started!
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