Anyway, Pearl's teeth.
"I guess her whites aren't Pearl-y!" I say. An attempt at a joke. It doesn't land. Her mom leashes Pearl up and leaves the grooming shop.
I turn to the shop's owner, Alyssa. "Like pearly whites? Because
Pearl?" I say.
"Yeah," Alyssa says. She either gets the word play and doesn't think it's funny. Or she doesn't get it because it's admittedly tortured.
Alyssa picks up my Augie and plops him in the tub. "See you in 2 hours!" she says, by way of goodbye.
* * *
A cold open is a story technique used often in films and TV, like The Office and Saturday Night Live.
It's the practice of jumping
directly into the action before any opening credits—no setup, no explanation. The viewer is airdropped into the middle of the plot as if by drone.
They're left to get their bearings. To get questions answered. Which is what makes a cold open so effective. We need to know wait what's happening here...?
The same is true in marketing: Your newsletter. Your blog post. Your podcast. Your story needs a cold open, too.
Why is it important? Let's return to Alyssa's grooming shop... <walk with me>...
Cold open: "Pearl is 8 years old but seems much older."
Reader's brain: "Pearl. Unusual name for a... child? Why does she seem older, wizened, a bit sassy? I need to find out..."
Imagine if this story started differently.
Non-cold ("warm") open: "Last week I took my dog Augie to the grooming shop run by Alyssa. There we met a dog named Pearl. Pearl seemed older than her 8 years..."
Reader's brain: "I wonder where Ann takes her dog to be groomed? That reminds me
that my dog Mesquite Smoked Almond needs a grooming. I should book an appointment now..." SLAMS LAPTOP SHUT.
See the difference?
* * *
A warm open tells more than it shows.
It reports what's going on—when and where we are, and why we're there—sometimes with as much craft as a reporting of a five-car pileup on the freeway. This happened... then this happened... then this happened... and now you've lost your readers—their attention murdered by a story that didn't propel them forward.
A cold open shows more than tells.
It leads the reader along, leaving small breadcrumbs of questions in the reader's
mind. They can't help but follow.
A cold open grabs attention and compels readers to stay with you. You invite a reader to stand beside you. You pretend their eyesight is poor, so your words help them see what you see, experience what you experience.
Often in marketing we set the stage instead of airdropping our reader directly into the action with a cold open.
Wander around the internet. Watch for it.
It'll smack you in the face, too.
Why didn't this blog post writer choose a cold open here? you'll wonder.
And you'll think: A cold open makes our content and writing as shiny and appealing as Pearl's teeth after a dental.
* * *
The cold open does something else that makes for a stronger story.
It grounds the action at a single, specific moment. That single moment helps writers plant our
feet in one place. Instead of taking a high-level approach by default ("I met a dog today"), you write a specific scene of a specific thought you had when you met Pearl.
A cold open literally slows you down.
It stops your brain from filling its sails with a rushing wind. It stops you from sailing ahead—letting the story rush out too fast—and instead dams the flow so you find yourself anchored in the best, most scenic place to begin.
This is why I often write drafts longhand first. Then I transcribe them—I'm doing that right now. (#meta) (LOL) It introduces a little friction into the creative process. And a little friction in creativity is useful if you want stronger results.
Writing by hand is slower than typing. So writing longhand forces my brain to slow down, too. That way, I tend not get flooded—where should I start a story? Here? Or here?
Moving slower allows me to more intentionally choose the best parts of the story. I tend to not capsize that
I don't know where these sailing metaphors are coming from. Maybe it's all the wind and wet outside.
Anyway—try a cold open. Let me know how it feels.
* * *
BTW! Alyssa transformed Pearl from a hairy little demon into a smooth and stylish angel. Here's a before and after: