A well-written blog post is like a good story. It makes us feel that we are right there with the blogger. It can teach us things—about life, or work, or making our way in the world. It can make us laugh, or cry, or say, ‘yeah, I had the same thing happen to me.’
Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, puts it this way:
“We think in story. It’s hardwired in our brain. Story is the language of experience. Other people’s stories are as important as the stories we tell ourselves. Because if all we ever had to go on was our own experience, we wouldn’t make it out of onesies.”
So how do you tell compelling stories on your blog?
1. First find your point.
Like a story, a good blog post has a point. Your point is your takeaway. If your blog content were a holiday tree, it would be the star on top.
Your supporting ideas are the ornaments. Hang them carefully, and make sure each one points back to the star.
How to do it: Write the main point of your post first. What are you trying to say? What one thing will apply to all of your readers, regardless of their backgrounds and experiences?
I write mine on a sticky note and put it on my computer screen, so it’s in front of me as I write. If you have listed more than one point, your topic is probably too broad. Save the others to use in future posts.
Example: In my post, “The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog Tagline,” my main point was the importance of a concise blog tagline in attracting and keeping readers who land on your site. So I started with:
“Some of us watched the inflated, over-the-top, “You’re good,” “No, you’re good” Oscars this spring. I did not. Since my daughter was in the biz, the glamour is gone.
I do remember, however, seeing the blow-by-blow on the front page of cnn.com. And watching the trailers online, I couldn’t help but think. Those folks in Hollywood know how to do some things well, like selling their product in one line. They know how to entice us in 25 words or less.”
So by end of the second paragraph, the reader knows the point of the post: how to entice your blog visitor in 25 words or less. That one point sets the tone for the whole rest of the post.
2. Set the scene.
Good stories start by setting the stage, before the characters show up. By creating an intriguing scene first, you make your readers feel more connected to the story and characters.
How to do it: Paint a sensory-rich scene that invites the reader to jump into the story.
Example: In a post I wrote for Becky McCray’s Small Biz Survival blog, my topic was how to make a business work in a geographically challenging location. In the opening lines, I painted a picture of where I live and hinted at the challenges of living there. :
“There are small towns. There are rural areas. And then there are islands. Islands that have no bridges, only ferries.
Ferries that blow their horns on foggy days. That break down at the worst possible moment, usually when you have an important meeting with a new client. Ferries that will take you back home—if you show up before the last one leaves the dock, at precisely 7:30pm.”
3. Throw in a character, add conflict and stir.
Just as in a good story, interesting characters can make or break your post. You want to create characters your reader can emotionally invest in, so she cares about what happens to them. If you tell a personal story, the main character will be you. In other posts, it may be somebody else.
The conflict in a story is called plot. In a blog post, the conflict is the problem you are helping your reader solve. I opened with a scene that put my reader there with me as I try to beat the clock and make the last ferry from the mainland back to our island home after a business meeting:
How to do it: Create tension with a real world conflict, a problem your reader can relate to.
Example: To continue with the “5 Things I Learned When I Moved My Business to an Island” post, the problem in the opening scene was missing the ferry. But the bigger picture, the greater problem, was how to manage a business successfully when it is located in a remote area. The post continues:
“If you arrive even 10 seconds late, the ferry workers in bright orange vests are pulling the thick ropes in and locking the gate. And you are stuck on the mainland, cursing that ‘careful’ driver who chugged along at 16 miles an hour all the way along the tree-lined road that leads to the ferry landing.
You would have made it if not for her.”
This set the reader up with one of the challenges of operating a business in an isolated location, this one being time spent in commuting.
4. Be sure there is a resolution.
Conflict is good, but if there is no resolution, your reader is left hanging. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but the character has to have been changed as a result of what happened. In a blog post, that usually means ending with what you learned, and the solutions you found.
How to do it: You have hooked your reader with a setting, your character and your conflict. Now you need to show her how to resolve that conflict, how to solve the problem.
Example: I ended my post with five tips, things I learned in moving my business from Seattle to a remote, 7.7-square mile island in south Puget Sound. An abbreviated version:
• Get to know your providers and vendors.
• Rethink your ideal client.
• Don’t make your location an issue for your customers.
• Develop an online support network and make friends with social media.
• Don’t shortchange your in-person networking.
That wasn’t the full post, but you get the idea.
5. Read as much you can, as often as you can.
At first thought, this one would not seem to be part of the storytelling process. But I have found that this one strategy has, above all others, helped me become a better teller of stories, which, in turn, has made me a better blogger.
In On Writing, Stephen King says: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot.”
How to do it: The authors of the classics have much to teach us about the superb use of language to drive a point home and tell an entertaining story: Just a few of my favorites: Ernest Hemingway (for brevity and making every word count); William Faulkner (for evocative use of language); Eudora Welty (for descriptions and setting); and Flannery O’Connor (master of stories with a point).
But reading other, lesser-known authors will help you, too. You will get good at what creates an engaging story—and what does not.
Do you tell stories on your blog? Do you think a good story make a blog post more memorable?
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