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5 Steps to Telling Engaging Stories on Your Blog

how to tell stories on your blogThe best bloggers on the planet do three things very well. I call them the 3 E’s.

The first two, educate and engage, are the easiest to master. But the third E, entertain, is the one that will set a blogger apart from the masses.

The best way to entertain, to keep your reader glued to your page, is to tell a story.

What makes a good story?

The famed writer Flannery O’Connor said that a story is ‘a full action with a point.’ What better way to describe a blog post, too? In their most basic form, both a story and a blog post must have something happening and both must end with a point.

I’ve been reading Victoria Mixon’s groundbreaking book, The Art & Craft of Story. While she is talking to writers of fiction, what she says is just as true for bloggers. Her message is this: You are unique. Your history, your life experiences are unlike any other person’s in the world. And looking at your own life will teach you how to tell unique stories.

That’s powerful stuff. If you turn the camera on yourself, could you possibly have ways of looking at an issue or problem that that next blogger can’t duplicate? Could your life experiences relate to a post topic in story form, in a way that drives your point home in a unique and entertaining way?

How to tell an engaging story on your blog

1. Figure out your theme.

What is the one thing you are trying to say? What one thing will apply to all of your readers, regardless of their backgrounds and experiences? The theme is the point of your post. Write it on a sticky note, put it on your computer monitor and keep it front and center with each word you write.

2. Pull them in with an engaging hook.

Your headline and opening paragraph are your hook. Picture your reader browsing in Barnes and Noble. She opens to the first page and reads the first sentence. Will she read the next one (or buy the book)? Or will she put the book down, never to return?

You want your reader to think, “What’s going on here? I must find out!” There are many strategies for this, but making your reader curious or surprised with your headline and hook is one of the best.

Example of a Headline: Why I’m Dumping the Cat’s Eye Writer Blog

If you are a regular reader of the Cat’s Eye blog, this would make you sit up. Is she really quitting blogging? Why? This post prepared readers for my transition from Cat’s Eye Writer to my newly branded Judy Lee Dunn author blog.

Example of a Hook: 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.

What did election season have to do with anything? I wanted my reader to stay on the page to find out.

3. Paint a setting and introduce characters we will care about.

The character can make or break your post. Make it someone we can emotionally invest in, someone we will care about. Sometimes the character will be you. Other times, you will want to plunk the reader down in the story with you.

Example of a Character in a Setting: 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 7:30pm sharp.

When you arrive just 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 was a lead-in to a guest post I wrote for Becky McCray’s Small Town Survival blog. I was setting readers up for the challenges of operating a business in a remote location and figuring out how to make it work. I wanted the reader to be right there with me.

4. Set up your conflict (also known as your plot).

This is your problem. What are you helping the reader to solve? It should be a question your reader is itching to know the answer to. This is the part where something happens. Tell us a story about a problem you have had—one that you weren’t sure how to solve.

In this post, Google Said I Died: Will That Be Bad for Business?, the problem was how to control your online reputation when other people with the same name as yours are being talked about on the Web. 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 that shows the choice your character made.

This is where you reach the point of your whole story—how it ends and what that means for the reader. The best characters go through a change and make a new choice. So by the time you end your post, you should leave your readers with how and why you changed your mind, your opinion, or your way of thinking or feeling about something.

Using the Google Said I Died example again, I end with the resolution of the problem. I show the steps I took to manage my online reputation so I could be sure that the good stuff I was doing online came up higher in search engine rankings than the other Judy Dunn’s:

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 ever tell stories on your blog?

Do you think that a good story draws the reader in and helps them remember your post?

What kinds of stories could you tell on your blog?

Let us know in the comments what your experience has been with telling stories in blog posts.

A guest post by Judy Lee Dunn, owner of Cat’s Eye Writer. Subscribe to her Judy Lee Dunn blog for writers and get a free report: 30 Design and Content Secrets to Skyrocket Your Blog.

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53 thoughts on “5 Steps to Telling Engaging Stories on Your Blog”

  • Glori Surban says:

    This blog post was a story itself.

    Thank you so much for the wonderful tips. i write short stories yet still find it a bit difficult to apply the same principles to writing blog posts.

    I’m a new Cat’s Eye fan! :)
    Glori Surban recently posted..The Pros and Cons of Guest Blogging for Freelance Writers and Small Business OwnersMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Glori,

      I know just what you mean. The blog post would appear to be a different animal, but, when you think about it, it’s really a story, too. Glad you took something useful away. And, yes, the welcome mat is always out on the Cat’s Eye/Judy Lee Dunn porch. Please do drop by sometime. : )
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Terry says:

    Funny coincidence – I just wrote a brief story of the July 4th weekend storm at my blog yesterday: http://terrysthoughtsandthreads.blogspot.com

    It’s unusual for me to do that … most often I review other’s books, but for the past month, I’ve been promoting mine with related information in each post … education, poetry, and multiple sclerosis.

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Terry,

      Doing something different on your blog, like telling a story, can be great fun. And the more you tell, the better you get.

      Perhaps some of our readers will even pop in and read your 4th of July storm story. Actually, it sounds quite intriguing. Here’s to the bloggers who take risks and jump out of their comfort zones. I have a theory I call blog-as-lab. We experiment with different things. Sometimes they blow up in our faces and other times we hit a home run. Thanks for sharing here.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Charles Tutt says:

    Thank You! You sold me! I bought the book! I haven’t read it yet. I’ve always wanted to be a GOOD MESMORIZING STORY TELLER. I’m retired now and most of the writing/speaking I’ve done has been technical, procedural, managerial (policies, procedures, etc.). I now want to write for anyone who is searching for meaning and purpose in their life (because I’ve been on that ‘hunt’ my whole lifelong). Can you imagine? 7 Billion of us on this planet? Each with a special and unique purpose? But I don’t want to come across dry, professorial, preacher-like or parent-authoritarian (know-it-all “I know best/ do what I say”). I want to inspire, motivate, move my fellow citizens of the universe of now and all time (at least as we know time to be) to think, feel and explore/experience for themselves their uniqueness and feel/know their place in this universe at this time (now).

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Charles,

      If you are retired, now is the perfect time to perfect those storytelling skills. Initially I had just technical writing skills, too. ( I was a grant writer for many years.) Then we started our marketing business and I was a copywriter. And, finally, now I’m writing my first book.

      You are on the right track and I think Victoria’s book will help you a lot. Thanks for sharing your ideas here.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Judy, because my blog, WCHS, MPHS and Park College…Diary Writing 1960-1965, is a compilation of the diary entries I wrote 50 years ago, every post includes stories, however short. In my entry for June 20, 1962, “Marge Observes Hay Making, Sees Some of the Farm and West Chester,” I concluded by writing, “Now Marge knows I like Jim Peeke.” This resulted in a comment from Roxane B. Solonen: “Short and sweet , yet revealing of something very important – a crush. :) Isn’t it fun to remember? Sometimes, it’s a nice reminder of how far we’ve come.” My reply to Roxane was “Oh how I liked him.”

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Barbara,

      So great to connect with you again! You must be making good progress on that blog in diary form by now. You seem to be telling bite-sized stories that leave the reader wanting more. And what better a cliffhanger than, “Now Marge knows I like Jim Peeke.” I certainly want to know more NOW.

      I am writing me memoir now and, yes, some of the stuff is fun to remember— and some of it is painful. You have a novel idea there for a blog.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • My six year old son died from cancer two years ago. I have noticed that when I tell stories about him and our cancer journey, I get the biggest response. I even made his Caring Bridge journal more of a story rather than just facts about his care. I have always loved details, and I tend to include them frequently on my blog. I do find it more engaging to tell anything more like a story. Thanks for this post. It’s nice to know I’m doing something right.
    Kathy at kissing the frog recently posted..A Little Joey ReminderMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Kathy,

      I am so sorry about your son. What a poignant story you have to tell. And, yes, the details make it all so much more real for the reader. I am sure that your journey with all this is continuing (and hoping that telling your story is comforting in some small way). Thanks for sharing your experience here. : )
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Thank you for the very kind recommendation, Judy! You’re a sweetheart.

    I know we’ve been having a great time working on your memoir together and talking about just how many big names in publishing follow your blog for your wonderful advice.

    So it really was a surprise to hear that you’d died! Good heavens.

    I’m so relieved that, as Mark Twain said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
    Victoria Mixon recently posted..2 Ways to See Yourself Through Your Own StoryMy Profile

    • guest says:

      Victoria,

      Haha. Yes, Twain’s quote fits perfectly here. In the post, I also dreamed a little bit about what it would be like to be one of the other Judy Dunn’s (not the one who died, of course.) And I even got a comment from one of the other Judy’s who found a link to my post—where else—in HER Google Alerts. Very funny.

      Working with you has been (and is) a joy.You have saved me a lot of time and agony by helping me find the theme and structure of my book before I go ricocheting off in random directions. Thank you for that.

  • It’s not every day that an introvert sets her sights on world domination.

    After all, introverts shun the spotlight, don’t they?

    But this introvert – me – discovered that she had a message that was bigger than little ol’ her, one that needed to be shared with all who would listen.

    Telling stories doesn’t come naturally to me. My inward orientation means I tend to have a colorful internal storyboard that sometimes has trouble expressing itself in the outside world. But what I’ve learned, through blogging, writing and public speaking, is that people connect to me, to themselves and to each other through stories. They are looking for a “me, too!” moment that shows that they are not alone in their challenges and questions. Those moments don’t come through facts and figures; they come through stories.

    In the last year, I’ve realized that telling stories in my blog was starting to happen, but it wasn’t transferring to my public speaking. So I decided to work on that. And wouldn’t you know it, the first time I tried to incorporate a story about my introverted childhood into a presentation, one attendee wrote on her feedback form that “it sounded like I was eavesdropping on a therapy session.”

    Oops. That scared me away from story-telling for a bit. I’m slowly working my way back.

    I’ve learned that short, vivid stories work best. “Show, don’t tell,” you know? I’ll never forget the day when I realized that my content was showing up, but I wasn’t. In other words, I was sharing my brain and withholding my heart.

    Now I realize that if my message is going to achieve world domination, both my brain and my heart have to show up. So long as I can crawl into a quiet, cozy nook with a good book afterwards, I’m fine.
    Beth Buelow, ACC, The Introvert Entrepreneur recently posted..50 Shades of IntrovertMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Berth,

      Wow. What a technological wonder I am. In my previous comment, I managed to make my avatar disappear. Wonder if it’ll show up with this comment.

      You know, I like to hear stories like yours. Somehow opening up in our blog posts can make us feel vulnerable. But the “me, too” moment, that connection, is what our readers are really looking for. I wasn’t there for your speech, but it sounds like you were being honest and open.

      So, world domination, huh? Sounds rather like an overachiever to me. : ) Thanks for sharing your experiences here.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Great post, Judy! Nice to see you over here and good luck with your new brand.
    Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..How to Get Your Very First Article AssignmentMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Carol,

      Thanks. I’m honored to write a post for Mary and her team. I have admired this blog for such a long time.

      And on the rebranding, yes, it’s scary dropping a brand that has such name recognition. But it just didn’t fit my new author status. I am learning to be open to change. : )
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Judy,

    You pulled us in and gave sound advice. Your words emphasizing that each of us has a unique story to tell, to write about, to use as the roots of our blogging life–resonated with me. Though there are many bloggers in my niche, my experience caring for my mother who has dementia has often been my muse. Out of something sad and difficult, I have been able to craft pieces that help others. Thanks again, Beth @ Boomer Highway
    Beth @ Boomer Highway (twitter) recently posted..New Theme: Petite MelodiesMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      First of all, I love the title of your blog. Secondly, you are helping a lot of baby boomer women with your posts. I have been down that path and I think that the more support, the better. By hearing your story, it helps us put our own in context.

      Thanks for sharing your journey.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

      • Thanks for your support, Judy. I got into blogging a little late, but it has proved to be rewarding for
        me and also a great discipline: you need to post at least once a week. You need to find something awesome to write about. You need to sit in the chair and make it happen. All good! Beth
        Beth @ Boomer Highway (twitter) recently posted..New Theme: Petite MelodiesMy Profile

  • Amy I. Bloom says:

    I often write narrative essays. But, it seems like a lot of heart & soul for my handful of followers. I struggle with finding a better place for my stories (until my blog becomes more successful).

    I really like the examples you gave. I’ve spent many years teaching children & teens writing, and this post would be a great asset in the classroom. Have you checked out Ralph Fletcher? His stuff is for kids, but I find it fantastic for all writers.

    Thanks for this helpful post!

    Amy
    Amy I. Bloom recently posted..Narratives from the ClassroomMy Profile

  • When I started to blog, I sucked at it and didn’t know what the h*** I was doing. I was blogging because everyone else was doing it and because a few writers thought (blogged) that I should. It took me two years to figure out what I wanted to do with my blog. Feedback, comments from visitors, a blog survey (enlightening!). Humor works well, even sarcastic humor (at which I excel). I think you should find a niche. And then offer give-aways every so often.

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Karen,

      Thanks for popping in and sharing your wisdom. And guess what? I think we all sucked at blogging when we started. I wrote a post not too far back called “5 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging Since My Stinky First Post.” Readers ended up taking their first posts out and marveling at just how far they had come. It was great fun.

      It’s great that you’ve found your voice and style. A sense of humor is in the core of my being, too, so I know what you mean there. Here’s to many more years of telling stories on our blogs!
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Hi Judy,
    As always, I love your stories and voice. As a technical/marketing copywriter I’m still finessing the merging of my head and heart more effectively in my blog….and as my blog is part of my business website (and therefore acts as an online clip/portfolio) it’s sometimes tricky. So, it’s an ongoing work-in-progress as I work up the courage and mould my clients.
    I love the way you’ve so clearly outlined how blog posts can fit into a storyline format – it’s a great tutorial and shows how your students were blessed with a gifted teacher!
    Di Mace | Word Swords recently posted..The first-timer’s guide to blog commenting – Part 1My Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Di,

      You know, I used to worry about that issue when I was copywriting for our marketing business. But what it did for me (using stories and marketing to emotions in addition to intellect) was help me find my true clients, the ones who had the same marketing and relationship building philosophy that I did. There are definitely clients who are not comfortable getting this close to their customers. But they were the ones I didn’t want to work with, anyway.

      I do get what you are saying, though, and it can be a delicate dance sometimes. and as you referred to in molding your clients, I think it can be an education process. Whether you want to educate them AND write their stuff is an entirely different matter.

      Thank you for your kind words. I have enjoyed your wit and thoughtful comments over at the Cat’s Eye blog. : )
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

      • Judy, My week’s are made by your story-posts at Cats Eye/JudyLeeDunn! Wouldn’t miss them, and with this guest one, I’ve got a double enjoyment this week.
        You are perfectly right though about the client/value alignment of my business. I’d lost sight of that even though I’ve written about it on my blog and newsletters. Thank you.
        And this post (along with your fantastic tagline one over at Cats Eye this week) have inspired me to take steps to morph my blog posts to align them more closely with my business positioning, the way I copywrite, and my belief in storytelling. Looking at it now I find it astonishing that I’d not made the decision before (amazing what a good night’s sleep will do to think it through after being prodded). Seems a no-brainer and easy now that you’ve explained it here. Or maybe the nose on my face isn’t quite so clear when it’s viewed through my own eyes . Many thanks again.
        Di Mace | Word Swords recently posted..The first-timer’s guide to blog commenting – Part 1My Profile

  • Karen Bain says:

    Judy, thanks for these excellent steps. Recently I sent a short story to my relatives – “The Green Flash”… I thought it was darn good. Now, I’ll review it today with your steps as a guide. Thanks again!

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Karen,

      So nice to see you here. seems we talk more on Facebook than on blogs these days. You are writing short stories for family? That’s awesome! I’m writing my memoir and haven’t let my brother or sisters see any of it. (But it’s different, I guess, when the events happened in real life.)

      For, so long, I didn’t get that stories need to have a point. (Seems obvious now, but I guess I’m a slow learner.) So Flannery O’Connor’s definition (” a story is a full action with a point” ) really hit me hard. : )

      Thanks for sharing here.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Judy, you’ve done justice to this post

    Like Glori stated above, it is a story in itself and I love the way you delivered it.

    One thing that I love so much about blogging and business online (even offline) is that if you can write or tell a good story, you’ll always capture the heart of your customers / readers…

    Thanks for reminding me again – now back to write story!

    Sheyi
    Sheyi | Ivblogger.com recently posted..Blogging Tips for College StudentsMy Profile

  • Alex says:

    Hi Judy

    I am fairly new to your blog and totally new to this one – what has struck me is that you have convinced me that blogging is not some kind of black art separate from writing fiction or writing anything.else. I guess I think of blogging as more utilitarian!

    And I would never have thought of a blog post as a story – probably sounds strange to you!

    Thank you!
    Alex recently posted..Stevia: The Controversial SweetenerMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      Alex,

      It is so nice to hear from a Cat’s Eye/Judy Lee Dunn blog reader I haven’t met yet! Thanks for introducing yourself. And blogging as a black art? That’s priceless. Sometimes it can feel that way, especially in the beginning months.

      And, certainly, “utilitarian” is a great way to go with a blog. Nothing wrong with that. We all need useful stuff and hopefully, there is alway a takeaway. But the other part of the equation, the story, is what keeps readers interested in the things you are educating them about on your blog. So, in my opinion, they go hand in hand. And it is not strange, when you say you never thought of a blog post as a story. I started out with a lot of how-to type posts before I thought of incorporating storytelling.

      Thanks for popping in and sharing your thoughts.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Steph says:

    This is a GREAT post!

    I tell stories. It’s what I do. It’s the way I communicate with everyone. Yet, often on my blog, I feel my stories come across like reports … like journalistic accounts of something that happened. It’s as though sometimes I miss the mark a little, and it disappoints me so. The ones I’m most proud of, of course, are the ones that I feel like I’m simply telling to a friend (who happens to be reading it instead of listening to the sound of my voice).

    We all want to share our stories and we all want to believe that someone gets something out of them. That others see our point, and hopefully laugh a little bit along the way. In one of your comment responses, you said sometimes the journey is better than getting there. So very true, as long as there’s entertainment along the way.
    Steph recently posted..15 Habits of Great Writers: Day 13 – Publish; Or, In Other Words, Don’t Be a ChickenMy Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      You know, Steph. I used to wonder about the same thing: why i never thought of a blog post as a story. It has a point. It has a plot of sorts (a problem the blogger is trying to solve), it has characters (the blogger or other people), it has a set-up, development and climax/resolution.

      And, like you, I am a firm believer in making people laugh along the way. Here’s to more storytelling on our blogs! Thanks for sharing your wisdom here. : )
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • Richard Montgomery says:

    When I turned 18 years old…I made a plan to take a summer trip to my best friends family home in Alabama for three months and return home to California. So summer arrived and off I went to have an adventure. Now every week I called home and spoke with mom and followed up with weekly post cards or letters. When summer time was over. ……

  • guest says:

    Okay, comments that qualify for consideration for the Writer’s Digest West Coast Conference prize are officially closed. We have a winner!

    While I loved many of your comments, Beth Buelow’s stood out because she took a risk and shared from the heart her journey with storytelling.

    It was these two lines of Beth’s that did it for me: “They [our readers] are looking for a “me,too!” moment that shows that they are not alone in their challenges and questions. Those moments don’t come through facts and figures; they come through stories.”

    Congratulations to Beth and thanks to everyone for reading and leaving such perceptive comments!
    guest recently posted..The Hollywood Guide to a Better Blog TaglineMy Profile

  • I’m an English major, so you won me by mentioning Flannery O’Connor :)

    Great post! I’m in a little rut myself and need to post again, and this is totally what I needed to read. Thanks a bunch!
    Rachel Gilliam recently posted..Getting Personal: Why Being Human is Good for BusinessMy Profile

    • guest says:

      Rachel,

      Yes, O’Connor is one of my favorite writers of all time. She had that southern sensibility and her characters and settings were immersed in southern culture.

      Glad this post got you thinking again. : )

  • Judy,

    I love the way you’ve illustrated each point with a story! I want to know more about each story. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your post! I use a lot of stories in my posts, but I’ve got new ideas from you. Thanks!
    Vinita Zutshi recently posted..Violent Children: What if Your Child Hits You?My Profile

  • Dana says:

    Thank you for a great introduction to The Art & Craft of Story by Victoria Mixon. I plan to add this book to my reading list.
    Dana recently posted..My Dream Is Not A HobbyMy Profile

  • Trina says:

    Hello,
    Thank you for providing invaluable information. I will apply it to my writing! I’ve recently starting blogging. I write a variety of stories, from fiction to non-fiction, and personal essays. I really enjoy it! I’m not sure if I’m making any impact on others, but I sure hope I do. I use my blog to keep up with my writing and simply to tap into my creative side which will be useful for my current bigger project, my novel.

    Thanks for sharing and if your interesting, please visit my site. I hope it would be entertaining to you :)

    Trina
    Trina recently posted..How would you be judged?My Profile

    • Judy Dunn says:

      You bring up an important point here, Trina. Blogging does exercise the creativity muscle and makes other, longer works (such as your novel) easier to produce. There is nothing like writing regularly to prime the well and get us in the groove. Thanks for sharing here.
      Judy Dunn recently posted..The Surprises of Guest PostingMy Profile

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