Starting off a piece of writing with an anecdote about a person can work well to catch reader’s interest, because we all like stories. The biographer David MC McCullough uses an anecdote about Harry Truman’s mother to begin an article about several highly successful men for whom a strong relationship with their mothers was extremely important. This simple story about President Truman’s calling his mother to tell her about the Surrender of Germany at the end of World War II dramatizes McCullough’s point:
Early in the evening of august 14, 1945 in the living room of her yellow clapboard house in Grandview, Missouri a small spry woman of 93 talking to a gust excused herself to take a long distance call in another room. “Hello, hello,” the gust heard her begin. “Yes, I’m all right. Yes. I’ve been listening to the radio [...] I heard the Englishman speck [...] I’m glad they accepted the surrender terms. Now you come to see me if you can. All right good – bye.” (David McCullough – Mama’s Boys)
Sometimes you may remember an incident from your own life that might make a good opening anecdote. Here the novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver does just that in the first paragraph of her essay about how much friendlier people in Spain are toward children than are people in the United States by telling about potentially offensive incident to which many women can immediately relate, Kingsolver catches her readers” attention and draws them into the body of her essay;
As I walked out the street entrance to my newly rented apartment, a guy in maroon high tops and a skateboard haircut approached making kissing noises and saying, “Hi gorgeous. Three weeks earlier, I would have assessed the degree of malice and made ready to run or tell in to bug off depending. But now, instead, I smiled and so did my four-year–old daughter because after dozens of similar encounters I understood he didn’t mean me but her.
This was not the United States.
Barbara Kingsolver : Somebody’s Baby