Nut Graph and Angle: Keys to Strong Openings


The nut graph is the context paragraph, the place where you orient the reader, making clear the circumstances of the story and what it means. Nut graphs are used with all leads. It’s crucial to include such a paragraph in every story, otherwise the reader can quickly become confused, especially in stories with a scenic opening. Here’s how to write a great nut graph:

  1. Make sure to answer all the questions that haven’t been answered in the lead—Who? What? When Where? Why? How? You can leave the how for the rest of the story but the other questions need to be answered.
  2. Why is the most important question to answer. Don’t neglect it. Make sure that the reader understands why the story is important. Give the reason for its significance. “Sell” the story to the readers. Make a case for why they should read it.


Getting the right angle is the key to writing compelling stories of all kinds. Without a strong angle, your story will ramble along through a jungle of prose without any clear path or direction. Readers confronting such meanderings will lose heart; few will want to hack their way through the luxuriant undergrowth to find the story’s meaning. Make it easy on them. Figure out the angle in advance and make sure your story supports and illustrates it.

  1. Find one aspect of the story to highlight. In a profile choose one aspect of the subject’s personality to bring to the fore. What larger trend does their life illustrate? What is unique and distinctive about him or her? You want the best angle, the most interesting aspect of the life to highlight.
  2. What is the larger point you want to make? This is often related to the angle. What idea should the reader take from the story? What do you want the reader to learn?

These are just two of the topics I’ll address in my fall Seattle writing class, Revising Your Life.