How To Open Your Post With a Smashing First Paragraph (Using the Sandwich Method)
“You never have a second chance to make a good first impression.” — Will Rogers
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
A good first paragraph will do more for your art business than any Facebook Ad, Instagram blitz, or set of lash extensions ever could.
Because if you have a yummy first paragraph you’ll entice your reader to stick around…even if the rest of your post or piece isn’t perfect.
But how do you craft your first four or so sentences in a way that will get your type of reader to stay awhile?
It’s easier than you’d think.
You make a sandwich.
A paragraph sandwich that is. And I have a cheat sheet recipe for you.
So are you ready to have readers land on your page and think, “Whoa, this gal (or guy) can write!”?
Let’s do it.
Paragraph Sandwich Cheat Sheet For Artists and Writers
Imagine your opening paragraph is a sandwich consisting of three to five sentences.
- Your top piece of bread lays out the argument.
- Your middle sentences lay out the details.
- And your bottom slice intrigues them to read on.
Let me explain each layer a bit more and give you examples to make it super clear.
But First A Quick Loving Note For Beginners
- Please- when you first try this, don’t even worry about making the sentences good enough to “draw people in.” Love yourself enough just to use the sandwich as a tool to make starting the writing easier. Because it will make starting (and finishing) the writing easier. It will enable you to pick one theme (as opposed to 12) and stick to that one theme throughout your newsletter or post. Clarity imparts confidence. When you get clear on what you want to say writing is almost fun.
Ok, The First Part of the Paragraph Sandwich
The first sentence or top piece of bread in your paragraph sandwich is your topic sentence.
A good topic sentence will do two things for you.
- It will win your reader’s attention.
- Then it will lay out what your paragraph (and perhaps your entire piece) will be about.
So think of your topic sentence as an old-fashioned carnival barker. Carnival barkers used to stand on boxes in front of big tops and talk to passers-by about the novelty, beauty, or wonder of the shows within to entice them to buy a ticket.
Your opening sentence doesn’t have to be manipulative or flashy though.
In fact, you’d do better to have a sentence that simply stirs up some curiosity.
Your topic sentence should make your ideal reader put down her cup of tea, raise her eyebrows and say hmmm, what’s this?
Let’s look at a fun opening topic sentence from a writing coaching client of mine that does this.
Dr. Donna Wocher wrote the following top slice of bread sentence to begin a chapter in a book she’s creating about the transformative effect of pilgrimage on women in the second half of life. Her topic sentence doesn’t ramble on with boring academic stats and studies, instead, Donna surprises readers by opening with this sentence:
“Maybe it started when the car hit the house. Did midlife start then?”
Did Wocher gently get your attention? If you want to know more about midlife or at least about the car hitting her house you might read on to the next bit right?
What could you write to clarify your topic and pull your readers in?
This leads us right into the next part of your sandwich.
The Second Part of Your Paragraph Sandwich -The Middle Sentences
The job of your tasty middle sentences is to add details that support the statement you made in your topic sentence.
I want you to imagine your second sentence as say… a backup slice of prosciutto. Your third sentence is a luscious layer of explanatory lettuce etc.
So let’s look at what sentences Donna chose to humorously flesh out her topic sentence (which as you remember was about when midlife began for her.)
“Maybe midlife started when I had to move out? Then again it could have been when my son had a mental health crisis and we had to sue the school. Or perhaps midlife crept in unannounced like a silent draft through a crack in a window; quietly taking a seat and seamlessly blending in with all the other crises?”
When you have your backup detail sentences in place you’re almost done.
The Last Layer of Your Paragraph Sandwich
You just have to add your final sentence also known as the bottom piece of bread.
Think of this slice as a mermaid or siren from Greek myth.
Her job is to conclude that paragraph topic and enchant your reader into the shimmering waves of the rest of your page.
Try playing around with a mini-cliffhanger for this. (Cliffhanger sentences are just sentences that make you want to read on because you’ve been left wondering what happens next. Look for them as the final line of each chapter of the next “page-turner” mystery novel you read.)
Let’s see how Donna invites us out of her first paragraph and into her second with a mini-cliffhanger.
“Midlife’s start date proved elusive but it left one calling card that was hard not to notice.”
Hopefully, this last sentence both sums up Donna’s paragraph and leaves her ideal readers wanting to find out what that “calling card” was.
That’s the cliffhanger.
Make sense? You too can easily cobble together this kind of paragraph now that you know the layout.
Just Make a Sloppy Joe at First
Give the sandwich a go.
The first sandwiches you create will be messy, just call them Sloppy Joes.
After a few trial runs you’ll be making panini-like paragraph sandwiches.
Eventually, with a little practice, you’ll internalize this paragraph structure.
You’ll even begin to riff on it and invent your own customized structure. Then you can wing the sandwich tool out the window.
Remember, you can write well.
You just need a few tools like this in the toolbox.
Trust your creativity and ingenuity.
Lastly, give yourself permission to make a mess.
You allow messes in artmaking right?
Extend the mess acceptance to your writing as well, okay?
What do you think?
If you have any questions about sandwiches or writing in general ask away in the comments below.
Remember: There is no such thing as a dumb writing question.
If you want some personal attention to help you make your art writing shine, sign up for one of my Writing Coachings for Artists Mini-Packages. I’ll personally guide you on how to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in your art writing (with lots of humor along the way).
You might like these other Charmed Studio Posts:
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Jan-Alice Keeling says
Thea, this is wonderful. You sure know how to explain what good writing is in a way that makes me think I can do it!
You can do it. You already do it. You have the hard part down, the writing from the heart thing. The other stuff like this article mentions are just little tips and shortcuts about structure. They are useful tools in the toolbelt of a writer who already has the guts to speak their truth as you do. Keep going, if you have any questions I am here. And thanks for taking the time to tell me you liked the article, that made my day. 🙂
Denise McCanles says
This blog as always is so informative and creative. But there’s something else going on here. You have a way of making the reader feel good about themselves. This is not only a creative blog but I think it’s also a self-help blog for us Insecure creative’s who continually question our work. I absolutely love the quote at the end. I always feel better after I read one of your blogs. Thank you for that.
Deep thanks Denise. I think I help “insecure creatives” who need help feeling good about themselves- is because I am one of them myself. You know that expression…”write what you know” lol, that fits here. 🙂
Your support is always so appreciated.Keep singing your creative song to the world.
We can do a duet!
My answer is a hell yes!
Aisling Kiernan says
This is just so interesting. You have remade me think. Love it,
Thank you, Aisling for letting me know, so glad this article stirred your thoughts. 🙂
Sylvia Larkin says
Thea, I always get inspired and excited by your writings! Just what I needed to spice up my writings! Thank you! Adorable Charm!
Thanks so much Sylvia for this. Your writings are already spicy and fun and meaningful. What do you think of experimenting with using the sandwich for Pinterest? I’m considering using the carnival barker topic sentence as Pin subject line, the middle sandwich as the description itself, and ending that description with a little cliffhanger to inside curiosity and encourage a reader to click on over to read a post or see one’s online gallery? There is a belief that no one even reads the message body of pin descriptions, that is just for SEO. But I read the message body do you?
Sylvia Larkin says
Thanks so much, Thea! Your idea about using this technique on Pinterest is splendid! I read the description in the message body!
I always leave your posts and podcasts with new and exciting ideas. I have been wanting to jazz up my descriptions for my pieces and this gives me some fresh ideas. Love ya Thea!
Love you too Holli Mae!! I also love your new piece “Faith, Trust, Release.” Made me think and take a slow breath. Your Etsy shop is always alive and tended. I got a few tumbleweeds blowing across mine that need clearing out.
A very interesting concept Thea! I like a good sandwich, especially a zesty one. Nothing worse then a dry boring word sandwich.
Kevin you are such a gem. Thanks for always being so supportive to a fellow writer!
Kristen Dunkelberger says
What a great post/podcast Thea! I’m excited to have a new and methodical tool to use to work on my writing. I’ll definitely be making a mess – spilling mayonnaise, flinging the avocado pit across the kitchen when trying to remove it, the tomato juices dripping off the cutting board. Thanks for your words of encouragement – I’ll think of them while I clean up my mess and improve. :))
What an enchanting image you painted with your words Kristen! I am still smiling ear to ear. (I think the avocado pit is my favorite part, great touch.You are a natural.)Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know the article was of use to you. That is so cool for me to hear! If you try it out and want help or feedback don’t hesitate to send me a paragraph via email, ok? My pleasure.
Another example of a customized paragraph sandwich comes from the saucy, brainy, undersung food writer MFK Fischer in the opening to her chapter “Love and Death Among the Molluscs” in her book Consider the Oyster:
“An Oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life.
Indeed his chance to live at all is slim, and if he should survive the arrows of his own outrageous fortune and in the two weeks of his carefree youth find a clean smooth place to fix on, the years afterward are filled with stress, passion and danger.”
(Note curious intro sentence. Also note the cliffhanger ending clause. You want to read on to know about the “stress, passion and danger” an oyster faces don’t you? Ok, it may just be me :).)