June 26, 2024
By Merrie Meyers
Featured image for “Storytelling”

Whether you are a writer and reader of fiction, or a reporter of non-fictive happenings, you are telling a story. Researchers tell us that regardless of the content, authors have only three seconds to engage and connect with readers. Three seconds. How can you make it count?

Few of us have an innate ability to tell a story effectively right out of the gate. There are classes in storytelling taught by best-selling authors (, more than 90 certification programs (, a well-known audio program and radio program (The Moth) and even national festivals ( dedicated to the art. But there are also some basic approaches to capturing reader interest in that fleeting three seconds.

Try some of these attention-getting approaches: using anecdotes or analogies, posing a thought-provoking question, featuring a meaningful quote, highlighting powerful data or providing detailed descriptions.


Using a brief story helps to set the stage for the narrative. Reminiscing about a personal experience can reinforce an intended message. For example, before giving a teenager a lecture about coming home before curfew, a parent tells about a time when staying out late led to dire consequences.


Analogies are engaging, accessible and they have a wow factor. Good analogies are scene setters, and a comparison to another, well-known entity helps the reader grasp the nature of an object or an emotion. Comparing a building to another well-known landmark gives a reader a sense of size or presence, allowing the mind to move in the direction the author wants the reader to go. Readers can immediately identify with such analogies as, “blind as a bat,” or “finding a needle in a haystack.”

Thought-Provoking Questions

Questions that can be answered with a yes or no should be avoided. Based on reader perspectives, 50% of the audience may turn away, thinking the rest of the content doesn’t pertain to them. Pose questions that offer intrigue and require a little thought. For example, “How have increasing food prices impacted Easter Egg hunts?”

Meaningful Quotes

Starting your content with a personal, powerful quote helps to humanize the subject and introduce additional levels to the story. “When I completed the New York City Marathon, I knew I could achieve even the most difficult goal.”

Powerful Data

Sometimes, data can be an effective strategy for capturing reader interest. For example, “It takes 1152 bees, 22,700 trips to make one jar.” That statement speaks volumes, or actually, ounces!

Detailed Descriptions

Detailed descriptions create vivid images that convey sensory details, placing the reader into the story. Unlike concise writing, which offers only facts, descriptive writing paints a visual picture. For example, “They walked through the rain to cross the street,” is more concise than writing “The rainwater seeped into their shoes causing them to squeak as they tried to cross the street”.

Finally, practice makes perfect. Each technique requires attention to detail and several attempts to get it just right. Practice is critical to perfecting both written and visual telling of tales.

This article first appeared in Ruff Drafts, Spring 2023.