3 Things You Can Learn from the Don Corleone School of Writing

    Don Corleone School of Writing - gangster

    Since the advent of the Internet, the word community has taken on new meanings.  At one time a community was a group of interacting people living in a common location.  These days a group of individuals can meet in a virtual location. That sounds like a blog doesn’t it?

    In any case there leaders understand the dynamics of building community and that is the objective of every blogger.  And writing is our tool.

    Throughout history there have been communities that have just worked better than others, not because of  laws or rules but because the members worked together through common interests.  The Mafia is a community that succeeded because of the trust built within its membership.  The fictional Don Corleone is someone who knew a great deal about building  community.

    Community is mostly based on natural law.  Communities function best when they are based on the Golden Rule, the code of reciprocity. Do unto others…

    One of  my favorite movies is  The Godfather.  Early in the movie Don Corleone is accepting visitors when the baker,  Bonasera comes for a favor.

    The scene clearly shows how the Don is more interested in having a long term relationship with the baker, rather than have a simple tit-for-tat transaction.  It’s those relationships that kept “the family” going.

    Don Corleone in essence tells his friend that you can’t just pay me for a favor.  We need to have a stronger relationship built on trust and respect for one another.

    A closer look at the scene reveals three components that the Don uses to build relationships.  It’s an art.

    It’s an art…no really I mean an A-R-T. That’s an acronym for

    Blogger, Chris Brogan’s wonderful book, Trust Agents, describes the ART in his opening story about another Mafia character,  Donnie Brasco.  Obviously the Mafia metaphor tells us a lot about trust.  The lesson here is the theme of the book: become a trusted member of your community to become most effective.  And certainly all writers  want to use their voice to be effective.

    And so the first requirement of a blog is to get attention.

    1. Attention

    There is a quote from the Arthur Miller play, The Death of a Salesman: ‘“Attention must be paid.”   Bloggers  must strive to get attention immediately.   In order to get it we must provide a hook.  Usually that comes early, as in the headline of the post. The Donnie Brasco story in Brogan’s book, or Bonasera’s pressing story about his daughter, in the Godfather scene are stories that get our attention immediately.
    Stories reel us in.  We get hooked because we “feel” something.  That’s our emotions speaking to us and we want to learn more.  We are taken by surprise.  We want to find out more.  We ask questions that lead us to want to know more.
    In the book, Made to Stick, by the Heath Brothers, two components of creating sticky ideas are surprise and stories. Using stories to get attention, especially surprising stories is sticky writing.  And sticky writing is good writing.

    2. Reputation

    In ancient Athens, salesman were considered to have the best reputations.  Unlike modern “salesmen” they were known for their integrity and honesty.  They knew the art of rhetoric, or mastery of language.  The bones of rhetoric are composed of three principles: ethos, pathos and logos.
    Ethos is your character, your integrity…who you are.
    Pathos is your ability to listen to your audience with empathy.
    Logos for writers anyway, is your knowledge and ability to write.  If you sold toasters it would be your knowledge about toasters.

    All three components, ethos, pathos, and logos combine to create your credible reputation.  All three must be in place for your readers to believe and trust you.  By applying these three principles you will build trust in the community.  Enough trust leads to a solid reputation.
    Go back to the video and watch how Don Corleone uses ethos pathos and logos to make his point…or gives Bonasera and offer he can’t refuse.

    Consistently producing good writing keeps you visible in the community.  Donnie Brasco showed up regularly at Carmello’s Restaurant in Manhattan.  Don Corleone’s reputation, as they say, precedes him.  Reputation is built over time. Become a great blogger and your reputation will precede you.  Build your reputation for being dependable and reliable by consistently posting good copy.  By developing character, listening to your audience and becoming an expert in your field, you will build your reputation.

    3. Trust

    Consistent, crisp, informative writing will eventually create a sense of trust in your community.  Without trust your blog will end in a silent death.
    People will come to trust you because of your writing and and your display of empathy.  Your writing will become the physical evidence of your listening.

    Readers will come to see you as someone who cares about them.  They will see you as someone who is competent enough to express opinions.  They will trust you, and readership will grow.  Trust is nothing more than a display of  competence and caring.  By empathically listening to your audience you will show them how much you care.

    These three ingredients are what Brogan calls the new currency of the internet.  Money is not the currency of a “trust agent.”  Let’s take the focus off of monetizing our blogs.  Let’s truly be more interested in our community.  Let’s serve them instead of being served.

    As writers we ought to be aware of words like, empathy, dependability, reliability, consistency and professionalism.

    The Golden Rule.  This natural law can be the missing ingredient for any good writing.  I like to call it my WIDIOM Rule: Would I Do It On Me.

    Reciprocity reveals something about you as a writer and a human being.  It shows your respect for your readers.  It shows that you are willing to go through a transformative process with your reader, rather than a transactional process.  You want to build relationship rather than just sell an idea and walk away.  Get your audience attention.  Build your reputation slowly and consistently with great copy.  Build your community on trust.

    It’s all about the relationship.  The Don knew that.  That’s what made him the Don.

    On the Internet we are not paying for people’s attention.  We are building trusting relationships over time.
    That’s the secret ingredient to great blogging.  And that’s what Don Corleone knew.

    About the author

      Barry Polanski

      Barry is a practicing dentist in Cherry Hill NJ. He is the author of The Art of the Examination, and TAO of Dentistry, self-help books for the dental community. His blog TAO of Dentistry is one of that industry’s leading blogs.

    • Great article. Love the Youtube clip.

    • What a great article, thanks for braking it down for us.

    • nick says:

      Thank You Barry! I am just beginning to blog. I am truly fascinated by the blogosphere but do not know who I am as a blogger. So, I am on that journey. I am glad to have stumbled on to this post. Ethos, Pathos and Logos are my mantra from now on! P.S. if you were my Dentist I’d go at least once a week!

      • Thanks Nick,
        Ethos Pathks. And Logos should be everyone’s manta. I am new to blogging as well.

    • Joe Scott says:

      another good rule for good writing: be concise, damnit

    • Lynn says:

      Thank you for your great post. I have come to a similar conclusion myself, but you phrased it beautifully. It is a constant quest to stay on track with my reputation. There are many things that can entice me away from my reputation. Your post shows me how valuable trust and reputation really are. Community building is about forming relationships, and forming relationships is all about trust and empathy.

      • guest says:

        Thanks for your wonderful comment Lynn. With ART — like the fable tells us…slow and steady wins the race. Future online communities will demand, honesty and transparency.

    • Farnoosh says:

      I LOVE the Godfather. Don Corleone is brilliant. I blogged in detail about Mario Puzo’s masterpiece and the first Godfather movie. Don Corleone doesn’t just teach us about Italian mafia (and now writing). He teaches us about every facet of life. Thank you for the reminder of a great character!

      • guest says:

        Life is the arena. Teachers are everywhere.

    • Ro says:

      I think the acronym is flawed (given the context of the video). The primary element is Fear. So the acronym should read:


      • guest says:

        Acronym – not flawed. Just remember the movie Goodfellas. “C” asked Sonny what was the best way to motivate…fear or love. You make the call. Can’t have it both ways.
        There is no FART juist ART. The F stands alone.

    • Jess says:

      Trying to write a blog for the first time, not sure how to get it seen though? http://www.thepossibilitiesareendless.com/

      • Join the club. Mary and Leo really helped me…getting the content right and slowly building traffic. I believe Leo is right…concentrate on the content first.

    • Mike says:

      Good Stuff and basically

      “A-R-T. That’s an acronym for for any blogger

    • I have been reading your thoughtful writing for years and always fascinated by what you see in our world that others miss. Thank you Barry for opening my eyes again. Brian ~BB~ the bookbinder

    • S0BeUrself says:

      Fascinating post, particularly the notion of a currency of trust. It’s heartening to know that a medium exists purely for creative/intellectual/spiritual gain. Consumerism has enough of a choke hold on our culture…cheers to blogging.

      • guest says:

        Sounds like we can start a movement. Maybe Leo and Mary have done that.

    • Patrick says:


      “In any case there leaders understand the dynamics of building community and that is the objective of every blogger. And writing is our tool.”


      • Community is held together and based on trust. Leaders are other focused. They get it.

    • Great definitions! And seems the fantasy is taking over the science fiction these days.

    • Everything is about trust. As a dentist I learned this years ago. Our happiness depends on other people…and that depends on trust.
      Thank you Ami for your kindness.

    • guest says:

      Trust is the writer’s currency. We all read books by the same authors…because we trust them.

    • Thanks for a great article, Barry. You really get to the core of what makes for a good writer in general. I especially appreciate the part about trust. Building a relationship of trust with one’s readers is absolutely crucial to getting them to return again and again and to establish their loyalty, which is priceless.

    • We live in a world where people do not stop to read. They crash and move on. The post had more to do with using a new language of trust (what the Athenian salesmen knew. Think about a career in dentistry —whyere people really love to stop and congregate. All we have is our words.

    • Opps, I meant Don’s character. Type-error, just noticed. How silly of me.

    • Hi everyone – I love this post! Barry is a member of the A-List Blogger Club that Leo and I run. I’m proud of him 😀

      BTW – I’ve fixed the links to the Tao of Dentistry…

      – Mary

    • Barry,

      Interesting example of using Dan’s character here. Long term relations, trust is very important and takes time, I believe a few are looking for getting everything fast! and leads to disappointment! There are no short cuts!

    • Rita’s right. The link to the blog doesn’t work, but it appears to be at:

      This is a unique idea for a post. I think you’re right: Relationships are key. After great quality content, I can’t imagine what could be more important.

    • Rita Vail says:

      Good food for thought. Thank you. BTW, the link does not work for the Tao of Dentistry blog.

    • Really enjoyed this enlightening post.

      But am nervous about one thing. Remember what Don Corleone said to Sonny?

      “Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.”

      Hope you cleared it before posting! 🙂

    • Peter Noble says:

      Thank you for your insightful article Barry. It is a very enjoyable read.

    • Shevonne says:

      *Kisses his ring

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