Writing my memoir is teaching me a lot about story. Because the best ones read like novels, I’m structuring it with plot, colorful characters and scenes that build to the climax where the main character will have to choose between two overwhelming but conflicting needs.
So, throughout the book, we get to watch her squirm and fidget and try to get out of that inescapable choice. And that climax scene is the whole point of the story.
It is why the reader stays with us.
Does your blog post have a point?
If a blog is like a novel, then your posts are chapters or, more accurately, scenes. If you have nothing to say, no point to make, you don’t have a story and you don’t have a blog post.
It is a simple but sometimes overlooked fact. As an exasperated Steve Martin says to John Candy’s chatty character in Planes, Trains and Automobiles:
“And…when you’re telling these stories, here’s a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”
One of my favorite southern writers, the brilliant Flannery O’Connor, defined a story this way:
“A story is a full action with a point.”
Isn’t that a great way to describe a blog post, too? In their purest form, both a story and a blog post must have something happening and both must end with a point.
How to turn your post into a story with a point
1. Ask yourself what the point of your post is before you begin to write.
Some writers call it a theme. What is the one thing you want your readers to take away? Scribble it on a sticky note and put it on your computer screen. If it’s in your face, you’ll wander less as you write.
In the world of writing, we have terms for two kinds of authors. The ‘pantsters’ are so named because they write by the seat of their pants. They don’t have a point yet and they don’t have a plot.
They hope they find it before their tenth rewrite.
The ‘plotters’ begin with an outline: what the point of their story is, who the characters are and what they see happening to them.
Trust me. Unless you are a Stephen King (he is a pantster, but then he is a genius), when you write a blog post, you want to be a plotter. It will save you lots of grief and time.
2. Pull your reader in with an interesting hook.
Aren’t you a little sick of hearing how important your hook is? Okay, I’ll tell you once more.
Your hook is the single most important part of your post.
Your headline and opening paragraph are your hook. Picture your reader at a Barnes and Noble. She opens a book to the first page and reads the first sentence. Will she keep reading? Buy the book? Or put it down and grab another one?
You want to make your reader curious enough with your hook to read on, to find out what is going to happen next.
Example of a headline: Social Media Fail: 5 Reasons I Will Unfollow You
The teaser here, the curiosity factor is, of course, what will make me disconnect with someone on social media. If your goal is to build and keep your Twitter followers, you might be interested in those reasons.
Example of an opening paragraph: The other day I unfollowed someone on Twitter. At first glance, we appeared to have lots in common. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. I thought I could learn some new things from him. But then election season hit.
So, what did election season have to do with anything? I wanted my reader to stay with me to find out.
3. Introduce lively characters in real settings.
One of the best ways to write a post is from personal experience. In that case the character will be you. When we read books, we invest in the characters, often because we have felt the same way they do. The fun part for the reader is that she doesn’t have to go through their experience, but she can learn something from it.
Example of a character in a real setting: I’m pretty sure I’ll never be a world-class speaker. Speech class in high school was for me the equivalent of Chinese water torture.
The fear started building one day in 5th grade when I gave my lame, over-rehearsed “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” talk to a group of rowdy, pre-hormonal 10-year-olds, including Stewart Granger, who sat in the front row and pretended to pick his nose every time I looked his way.
I had no sooner opened my mouth that day when my fidgeting fingers managed to send the erasers on the chalkboard ledge flying amid great white poofs of dust. I choked on my words—literally—and the classroom exploded, Kids falling off their chairs, all of them laughing at me.
I was washed up, my speaking career irretrievably broken. And all at the age of 10.
This was a lead-in to a post I wrote called The Introvert Blogger’s 5-Step Guide to Acing an Interview. I was setting readers up for the challenges introverts face when being interviewed by the national press.
The point of the post was that, with a little preparation, introverts will do just fine in interviews. And right there in the beginning, I wanted readers there with me, invested in my conflict, as I struggled with my impromptu speaking.
4. Set up your conflict (also known as your plot).
Conflict in a story is all about the problem a character faces. In a post, the question is: What am I helping the reader to solve? It must be a problem she cares about or why would she want to know the answer?
If a story is a full action with a point, this is the action part. Tell us a story about a problem you have had—one that you weren’t sure how to solve.
I wrote Google Said I Died: Will That Be Bad for Business? to tackle the problem of controlling your online reputation when other people with the same name as yours are in the news. As the story unfolds, I am at my computer.
A Google Alert lands in my in-box, with a link to Judy Dunn’s obituary. So the conflict is this: What happens when a news story about another Judy Dunn hits the Web?:
Example of conflict: Sometimes a Google Alert comes in that wakes you up. Like last Wednesday, when I found out I had died. It was kind of weird because I wasn’t really expecting it. I was just reading along and, bam, there it was: my death notice.
5. End with a climax and resolution.
Here you are at the end, the whole point of your story. The most interesting characters go through a change, learn something new, or make a new choice. You can show this by leaving your readers with how you changed your way of thinking or feeling about something.
In the Google Said I Died example, I closed the post with how I resolved the problem. And I outlined the steps my readers can take to be sure that the good stuff they are doing online comes up higher in search engine rankings than their name alikes:
Example of a climax/resolution: If you are a solopreneur or small biz owner and people relate to your name—rather than your business, it makes sense to keep an eye on the places you are appearing on the Web. You may not have died, like I did, but one of your name-alikes might have done something truly dreadful, like embezzling the company receipts or breaking into a family’s house and drinking all their Scotch. Here are some things you can do to separate yourself from them:…
What about you?
Do you think any of your blog posts would make good stories?
Do you think that every blog post should have a point?