Close
Close

The Storyteller’s Tale: How a Fiction Mindset Will Empower Your Blog

A guest post by bestselling novelist Larry Brooks from Storyfix.com.

Sports analogies rock.

They certainly can and often do lean toward the cliché, but like even the most trite of clichés, they’ve earned that dubious label because they’re valid.

The use of cliché in copywriting, not so good. The use of valid analogies in the instructional and marketing realms, priceless.

Which is why I’m about to pitch you on developing your next blog post as if you are writing a novel. Or at least a story. And I’m going to use a few sports analogies to tell you why.

You Can Run, But Can You Hit?

There are dozens of sports out there. And while most require the application of eye-hand coordination, speed, strength, quickness and an intuitive strategic acumen – I don’t count poker in this, by the way, even though some rocket scientist at ESPN decided to put it in their lineup – they differ to an extent that their inherent core competencies, while similar, don’t remotely cross over.

If you’ve seen Charles Barkley’s golf swing or watched Phil Michelson attempt to bench press his ball bag, you know what I mean. And I have a feeling the starting defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, who can bench press his Buick, would pretty much suck on a tennis court.

Tiger Woods? Let’s not go there.

It’s the same with writing. Ad copywriters don’t always make good novelists. Journalists tend to suck at poetry. And as for blogging… well, it represents the decathlon of literary pursuits, because it embraces just about anything and everything that pertains to the human condition.

Pretty much everyone is writing a blog these days. We have to. Because publishers are telling us that an “author platform” is the key to not only selling books, but to landing a contract in the first place.

Of course, not everyone is trying to land a book deal. Blogging sells products and brands companies, too – they even change lives on occasion – so whatever we can do to elevate the effectiveness of the work, it’s a good thing on all fronts.

You Scratch My Blog, I’ll Scratch Yours

While fiction writers in the blogosphere have learned much from the copywriters and journalists and entrepreneurs who have become the stalwart icons of blogging, its rare when any of those folks look to a novelist for either inspiration or mentoring.

Can’t blame them, really. Most fiction writers think HTML has something to do with air conditioning and that Seth Godin is that fat guy who starred in Superbad and Knocked Up.

But it’s time to return the favor. Because at the heart of every successful story resides a development model that is so comprehensive and powerful, it defines the very essence of the craft. Not just of writing novels, but of writing anything.

And it’ll work for bloggers, too. Even if you have Pulitzer on your credenza or you run a business in between posts.

Defining the Process to Enhance the Product

You can’t just sit down and dash off a top-of-the-head rant and expect it to be optimally effective as a blog post. Any more than your business plan, front-page feature or book proposal can come off as random or too self-focused.

Great novels are strategic. And so are great blogs.

The ultimate effectiveness of your blog is about storytelling. And like blogging itself, it’s much harder than it looks when delivered at the hands of a pro.

Of course, the mere presence of the word writer on your resume implies that you bring some intuitive sense of strategy and structure to the work. But with something as complex as a novel, such impromptu construction puts the project at great risk.

Whether successful storytellers define their process this way or not – most don’t, because it’s new, and it’s proprietary – they all apply the same set of core competencies and criteria to the work. And they are the same core competencies and criteria, with only slightly different language and context, that bloggers can use to generate more effective content.

This development model breaks down into six buckets, each with a list of succinct definitions, missions and criteria-based checklists. The omission of any one of these core competencies dooms a story to compromise, or even failure.

As it does your blog, as well.

The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling: Applied to Blogging

What follows here are The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. Apply them to your blog, and over time you’ll find yourself on a bestseller list in your niche.

1. Concept: in novels this is a compelling “what if?” idea, such as… what if you could raise the Titanic?… or what if Leonardo DaVinci put secret messages into his paintings?

For bloggers, your concept is your U.S.P. – Unique Selling Proposition – and the inherent value-add of your brand, product and message. What if I could save your marriage? Your life? What if you changed X to create Y?

2. Character: in novels this is the vehicle by which the reader is taken on a vicarious journey, one that elicits their emotion, empathy and fascination. The root for the hero, because they are the hero.

For bloggers, the character of your site is also empathetic and vicarious, in that you are illuminating solutions to problems in the real world of your target audience. You are not writing about you, you are writing about them. The reader is the hero of your story.

3. Theme: in novels, theme is what a story means in real-world terms, how it makes the reader respond, it elicits thoughts and emotions that relate directly to the human experience and their take on it.

For bloggers, the theme of your site is the set of value propositions upon which it is based, a direct focus on how your message and product relates to their lives. Your theme is the benefit of what your blog stands for.

4. Structure: great stories have a succinct structural model, based on a four-part sequence of set-up, response (to an inciting incident), attack and resolution. With lots of milestones and mission-driven criteria along the way.

For bloggers, structure means unfolding your story in the same fashion – a set-up that opens the story from the reader’s point of view, showing how the typical response or condition creates problems and/or opportunities, showing how the reader can and should attack those problems (using your solutions), and then demonstrating how and why your solutions will work for them. Like a novel, your blog should deliver a meaty, satisfying ending.

5. Scene Execution: a novel is composed of a series of scenes, each of which must be in perfect balance, with perfect tone and context, in relation to the overall arc of the story.

For bloggers, this translates to a point by point dismantling of misconceptions and the seeding of the case for your product or solution. Each element stands alone with a mission, which is in context to the larger mission of the post itself. If your post is about “X Ways to Do Y,” for example, then each of those steps is the equivalent of a scene.

6. Writing Voice: all writing is not created equal, and some writers set themselves apart not only with their storytelling, but with their literary style, humor, passion and elegance. Voice is the collective effect of the words on the page, the use of language, the images and emotions evoked.

For bloggers, your voice is your brand. It must be strategically defined and developed, and then rendered consistently as you move forward through a series of posts that always illuminates the brand as an empowering sub-text that resides beneath the content itself.

The Muscle-Memory of Strategic Storytelling

Given that the above is pretty much an entire year of fine arts grad school, there is obviously much more to it. But that minutia is found within these six buckets, because there really isn’t any more to the art and craft of effective storytelling than those six buckets.

As with athletics, where the fundamentals of the game are honed on the practice field and then rendered as background context that empowers the real-time game experience, so, too, can bloggers learn and apply these contextual storytelling fundamentals to their game.

But unlike sports, when bloggers do it, everybody wins. Which is the very essence of effective writing and successful business alike.

Larry Brooks is a bestselling novelist and the creative force behind Storyfix.com, an instructional site for fiction writers in all genres. His book, “The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling,” will be published by Writers Digest Books in early 2011.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Problogger.net runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. Genesis provides the secure and search-engine-optimized foundation that takes WordPress to places you never thought it could go.

Check out the incredible features and the selection of designs. It's that simple - start using Genesis now!

Comments

  1. Fazreen says:

    Hi Darren and Hi post author,

    Awesome post indeed. You give me an idea to versatile my writing. I know, a novelist is a creative guy with lots of imagination and idea. Comparing novelist with blogger is a good thing to analyze. Although, both persons are different but their daily job which is writing made them similar in other hand. However, both novelist and blogger can learn from each other.

    Cheers,
    Fazreen

  2. Hi. I read a few of your other posts and wanted to know if you would be interested in exchanging blogroll links?

  3. Dmytro says:

    Good post, but it focuses too much on selling and marketing your product, when some bloggers just aren’t ready to have their own product yet. It also took some time to get to the “demonstrating how and why your solutions will work for them” part of the post and didn’t really offer “a meaty, satisfying ending”. ;-) Other than that, great job.

  4. Henri says:

    Fascinating. I’ve always been interested in writing fiction. I started when I was just a wee lad (don’t you love that expression?) and have ever since written about green blobs and big hamsters.

    This gave me a nice blueprint to check what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. It can easily get overwhelming reading a piece like this, so it really helps me to take it in one step at a time.

  5. Excellent post. I have just started a blog and have already forgotten my writing roots. It’s very important for every blogger to reassess what exactly they are doing and who they are aiming for.

    I’m going to search a little around your site. I am an aspiring novelist delving into a blogger’s world. Luckily for me, as you pointed out, the two work very well together.

  6. Raja Habib says:

    Nice Post. I am trying to focus on the 6th point mentioned. I am a beginner blogger. I am trying to incorporate a voice in my writing. I guess these tips come in handy when my blog ages.

    Regards,
    Raja,
    http://www.about-dog-breeds.blogspot.com/

  7. EF Cussins says:

    I have noticed that my best posts are ones that are introduced with a story. It is used to capture the main theme or thought of the whole post.

  8. Larry,

    WOW! What a powerful lesson.

    This is so good that I’m bookmarking this post to come back to it over and over again.

    I don’t think I’ve ever considered approaching my wiriting in this way, but now I’m quite happy I have a solid strategy to make my blog (and writing) even better.

    Thanks,

    Krizia

  9. Jeffrey Tang says:

    What’s interesting to me is how the storytelling model works for both individual blog posts and the blog as a whole. The most powerful blogs I read tend to grow out of a powerful (usually ongoing) story of change or success or something remarkable.

    That brings up an interesting question. Just as an author eventually needs to bring a successful series to a close, do bloggers always need to look for an “end” to the blog story?

  10. scheng1 says:

    I think Warren Buffet “steal” this idea in writing the annual report. His annual reports still remind me of childhood, such as the nose grows longer and longer whenever you tell a lie.

  11. Larry says:

    @Jeffrey — good question. I think the “end” of a blog’s story is the successful positioning of whatever point the blog is trying to make. And of course, if an actual anecdotal story is used, that should be resolved, as well. The thing about storytelling on blogs is that the “hero” is often/usually the reader, so the context is slightly different. When they win, the story works.

  12. Matt Seymour says:

    “What’s interesting to me is how the storytelling model works for both individual blog posts and the blog as a whole”.

    I agree you think how popular Yaros blog is? And all he is doing is sharing his experiences in story format.

  13. Oleg Mokhov says:

    Hey Larry,

    When you treat a blog like a novel, you can hook readers in with a compelling ongoing story.

    It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book on steroids.

    Each chapter (post) evolves from previous ones and can be affected by the interactivity of the readers. The character is constantly going through a enticing and valuable story within each “chapter” and as part of the greater book.

    It’s like Jeffrey mentioned in his comment, the story can be both within each post and as part of the larger website.

    Treating your blog like a novel can really make the USP, articles, and topic more remarkable and compelling to the readers.

    Thanks for the awesome reminder. I haven’t thought about it this way too much, so this is something I’m going to more consciously incorporate now,
    Oleg

  14. George says:

    Great info! I think paying attention to both the style and content of our blog posts is critical.

    Storytelling has been part of the human experience for perhaps 100,000 years, and is deeply rooted in our psyche. The best way to communicate is through stories.

    I especially enjoyed your post because it shows how to apply this powerful tool to blogging. And, it is clear and actionable. Thank you!

  15. AWESOME, AWESOME post. I have two blogs both spin a bit of reality into fiction. We’re Not in Oz Anymore and Big Girl Bombshell.

    Some of us do start writing blogs because of the writing, not just to make money. To build a platform. As with anything, it takes time. Sometimes the storyteller, starting out as a personal blogger, is looked down upon because of the content or lack thereof towards making big money.

    As with me, I am a writer. Someday I want to be published. That is the end goal. But it takes time and practice and a platform. What better way to get there than testing the waters with a blog.

    Seth Godin is someone who inspires me. I was fortunate enough to do a guest post for a generic, around the web type of blog that challenged my writing. No traffic came from my guest post, but what did come was a response to an email to Seth. What a thrill to know he read my post, and responded. The post was actually about guest posting and using Seth’s idea virus theme to share ideas on blogs.

    Unfortunately, I am not able to use that post on my own blog but as a writer, I can weave the story another way. Isn’t that blogging? For me, wanting to be a better blogger, is learning more about writing. The rest will all fall into place.

    Thank you Darren for inviting your guest and Thank you Larry for sharing your wisdom…. It helps today more than you can guess

  16. Joel says:

    Hey Larry,

    You have it as ProBlogger.com on your website…you may wanna chnage that to .net. :)

    “Quick note — see my guest post today on Problogger.com. And if you’ve come here from there… welcome!”

    This will take them to the new forum.

  17. Denise says:

    Nicely put Larry. I’ve been blogging for a few months and am starting to find my blogging “voice.”

    I definitely agree with your assessment that when we write the reader is the hero in the post. I guess the “meaty, satisfying ending” is something I probably need to work on.

    Thanks for the insights. Very helpful post.

  18. Great info!

    This is a nice refresher to one of those things I “never thought I’d use” from my English classes…the 6 part rhetoric!

    Without reading this post, I would continue to neglect incorporating it into my blog. Thank you!

  19. Hello Larry,

    I subscribe to storyfix.com and read every post. The more I read the more I think you get it right, just like this post. I write and blog from a partucular point of view that I expand on. Your advice makes a difference.

    David Gillaspie
    deegeesbb.wordpress.com

  20. Great looking tips on storytelling. If the story isn’t good, the lesson won’t be memorable (and neither will be the writer).

  21. Dear Larry:

    I have heard this enough times to get it: stories rule! Create a blog that is a story, that tells a story, that helps others feel like they are part of the story.

    Storytelling is the most powerful and unique way of making a point. For example, I have been watching anime a lot lately and I have been learning a ton as well. The story that those cartoons tell is amazing and it always carries a message with it.

    When you tell a story you evoke images, feelings, thoughts, memories that help reinforce the point that you are making. Also, it is much easier to remember later on.

    Weaving a blog that satisfies all of the elements of the story can be indeed difficult, but I believe that just by thinking about a blog in those terms can add value in itself.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with the rest of us!

    Best,
    Tomas

  22. Kwame says:

    Hmmm! Excellent post. Now you’ve given me some more ideas for my blog posts.

  23. Definitely extremely good tips. I write fiction a lot, and for me, those are the keys for writing a great story.

    A lot of people in fiction forget them, as do people in blogging, but without them, it’s very hard to be successful.

  24. knatchwa says:

    Some powerful points were made throughout this post, things to take into consideration and put to action, so thank you so much for the insight and the unique views you provided on this subject of great interest.

    Look forward to reading more – Retweeted & Shared.

  25. Larry says:

    Thanks to all for the warm welcome here on Problogger. I appreciate your kind words and for taking the time.

    @Joel — thanks for the correction — an important one — ’tis fixed now.

  26. Eric C says:

    Ironically, this post didn’t tell a story…

  27. Rebecca says:

    Larry, this is a terrific post, and really brought some new ideas home for me. I’ve always toyed with fiction here and there, but recently crossed over the line into self-help and journal-blogging. Being able to relate to writing fiction is very encouraging.

    Thanks!

  28. catherine says:

    “even the most trite of clichés, they’ve earned that dubious label because they’re valid.” — i like it :)

    this is a great post, i enjoyed every word of it plus it’s really informative. thanks for the tips! this is really helpful and makes me want to blog right away ;)

    #1 tip: Concept is definitely the cherry on top. Post titles with “What if? ” are really catchy, and to make the readers read for more, the next five tips are the key.

  29. Larry – I love this idea. Storytelling is a powerful way to teach, as readers of almost any religious texts will realize (tho’ the interpretation of the meaning of the story can vary wildly). Thinking of blogging as storytelling will give your individual posts more impact AND help readers remember you. I will try this.

  30. Jaszy says:

    A very good start to my day! Good points for me to focus on.

    Many thanks for a really good post!

  31. Loved this very different viewpoint on writing a blog – gave me a new perspective and some great ideas. Thank you!

  32. Dave Doolin says:

    I spent some time this summer working on titles and subtitles, to very good effect. Takes practice.

    I recently stumbled across the notion of an “inciting incident” to provide motivation at the beginning of the article to help propel the reader into the story.

    So now I’m attempting to motivate each post I write with an inciting incident. Harder than it sounds. Takes practice!

  33. Using Stories – This is one of the first lesson I learned when I started to blog 5 years ago. Even then I know this, I tend to forget about it. A blog post like this is such a good reminder of the power of story telling.

    It’s silly to say but in real interactions, we are telling stories in one form or another but when bloggers turned traffic generation or money making tool, we forgot few crucial things like this.

  34. Joi says:

    “For bloggers, your voice is your brand.” – I love that!

  35. Great article! I’m totally looking forward to seeing more articles :)

  36. Bookmark says:

    Nice Post. I am trying to focus on the 6th point mentioned. I am a beginner blogger. I am trying to incorporate a voice in my writing

  37. Proxy says:

    I think that is an interesting point, it made me think a bit. Thanks for sparking my thinking cap. Sometimes I get so much in a rut that I just feel like a record.