The 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.