Close
Close

Un-dull Your Blog Posts: Four Fiction Techniques to Try

This guest post is by Harry Bingham of Writers’ Workshop.

Most blog posts are dull.

They might be well-informed, offer interesting insights, teach useful things—but they can do all those things and still be dull.

Although readers do come to blogs to learn, they are only ever two clicks away from rival offerings, which means you’re under constant pressure to retain those eyeballs.

And eyeball-retention is a learnable, replicable skill. I’m a novelist, after all. People don’t come to my books in order to learn anything: they come for entertainment and will desert me if I don’t satisfy their expectations. So I—and my peers—made darn sure we satisfy them. What’s more, the approaches that work for books are eminently transferable to blogs.

Story

One driver that always works is story. Let’s suppose you’re writing about an SEO technique which yields, on average, a 30% traffic increase over a three month period. Clearly that technique is, in principle, going to be of interest to your readers.

But isn’t that presentation dull? I mean, don’t you feel your heart contract just a little when you hear those stats? You know you need to read the post but, gosh, it doesn’t excite you.

Contrast that with a post that starts with a story. Jed Edwards is a fishmeal seller who’s struggling to make a go of his business in recessionary times. He hits on a new SEO technique that doubles his online traffic in the space of three months. He renegotiates a bank loan on the back of a new business plan and for the first time in years, things start to look up.

Now that snippet still feels a little poor. We want more detail, more personalization, more that is specific to Jed and his business. But enrich that one paragraph to, let’s say, three and you have a human, empathic connection. Your reader is hooked.

Of course at that point, you’ll need to backtrack. You’ll need to say that the Jed’s experience is unusually positive, that 30% increases are the norm, not 100% ones. And you’ll need to get into the nuts and bolts of the technique. But all that doesn’t matter. You’ve got the reader into your article. You’ve won their trust. Your task isn’t finished—but it’s very well started.

The trick to this approach is to start (and ideally finish) with the personal, the specific, the detailed. You can see one example of this approach on our blog here, but you can also view countless examples of it in the newspapers. If a journalist is writing about the Japanese tsunami, for example, they’ll likely start by picking out the experience of one particular family, or one particular village. Start with the particular, move to the general, and move back to the particular with your close.

Controversy

Another good alternative is to go for controversy. You don’t necessarily need to believe 100% in the position you are presenting. Obviously, you need to have some real belief what you’re saying, but it’s okay to allow yourself to express things more strongly than you truly believe. That’s not about lying: it’s about helping to clarify things for readers. By making strong statements, you can let your readers test out what they do and don’t believe on a subject.

In the end, a controversial stance is simply a way to keep the reader interested in what follows. A recent guest-blogger on our own writing-related website made a big splash with an argument that alcohol could be used to promote creativity. It’s a controversial position—but that post scored almost three times as many hits as one of our regular posts. (His post can be found here.)

Facts

You wouldn’t think that novelists spend much time wrestling with facts, but we do! Historical fiction, for example, nearly always relies on a novelist finding some extraordinary aspect of the past and bringing it to life via story. But if the background material weren’t compelling, the book wouldn’t be either. Philippa Gregory’s international hit book (and movie) The Other Boleyn Girl worked primarily by bringing an extraordinary aspect of King Henry VIII’s colorful life to public view.

You can do the same. Most pro bloggers recycle the same old facts. You need to avoid that. You need to locate the specific, unknown fact that throws a new light on the issue you are commenting on. You don’t need to embellish that fact or wrap it in fancy packaging. If your fact is strong enough, you can hook a post to it without any of that.

Take, for example, Amazon’s launch of the Kindle Fire. Countless commentators regurgitated Amazon’s sales statistics—to such an extent that no blog advertising this fact could be of real interest. So Clint Boulton did some original research (which he discusses here) and transformed a dull post into a value-added one.

Style and humor

A fourth—difficult—approach relies on writing style and humor. It’s hard, because you need real writerly skills. You can’t just bolt them on, the way you can with the first couple of approaches. And humor that falls flat is much worse than no humor at all.

On the other hand, there are replicable skills here too. Economy, for starters. Are you saying something in 12 words that could be said in eight? If so, your blog post risks being 50% longer than it ought to be. Pedantic micro-corrections to your text can build into a large macro difference in interest.

Cliché is another grievous sin against good writing. Every cliché kills—just a little—the reader’s interest in your text. If you spot examples of cliché in your text (and that means remembering to look for them!), you can correct the problem in one of two ways. Either come up with your own original striking phrase or choose a simple but accurate replacement. So you could change “She was grasping at straws” into either of these alternatives:

She grew desperate, a drowning woman in search of a lifebelt.
Tiny facts now filled her with unreasonable hope.

Both of those options are a big improvement on the cliché.

Examples

Finally, humans aren’t particularly rational creatures. Logically, it makes good sense to state general principles and let readers figure it out from there. But readers want examples. They make those general principles leap to life.

The joy of hyperlinks means that you don’t even have to slow your prose down with reporting those examples: you can just point to them and move on. The better written and more joyous the posts you point to, the more joy you bring into your own post too. It’s like love: you create more by sharing.

Have you used any of these techniques to un-dull your writing? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Harry Bingham is a novelist. He also runs the Writers’ Workshop which offers help with all aspects of writing a book.

About Guest Blogger

This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. If you'd like to guest post for ProBlogger check out our Write for ProBlogger page for details about how YOU can share your tips with our community.

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. Daniel Roach says:

    Awesome thoughts. Probably 75% of web writing could use these. Heck, the idea of Story goes back to that old stand by wisdom of fiction “don’t tell us, show us” since it’s far more interesting to have a metaphor or simile that walks us through the dry information. Aesop knew it was true ;-)

  2. A very good article and one I will bear in mind when writing future posts for my new blog. Best I learn these skills early on. Thanks for sharing Darren.

  3. Mike says:

    I think you’ve made some good points about what we need to do for our blog posts. I think it’s important to be able to have a little bit of controversy and then try to get people involved with discussion. Sometimes that discussion is more important than trying to increase traffic.

  4. Dwayne@TWC says:

    Good points here, Harry. I naturally like to add a little humor to my posts because I’m a naturally funny guy but I haven’t tried the controversial approach yet. I’ve thought about doing one and now I think I will. Thanks for the info.

  5. Jason Scott says:

    I could improve on each of these strategies. I get so busy trying to get my point across that I’ve missed that things like the tips you’ve given will improve that effort. The ol’ can’t see the forest for the trees trap.

    Thinking about it, using these strategies might also make the actual writing process more fun. I’ll take this on board. Thanks, Harry.

  6. Rebecca says:

    The links about the author and his workshop at the bottom of the article go to a “that page can’t be found” page. I’ll go google him, because I’m really interested in the content of the article and the possibility of the workshop. Would be nice to be able to link straight to it!

  7. Christin says:

    I soo needed this advice and guidance. Thank you so much. I know my posts need more to them as far as illustration goes and it’s not something that comes real naturally to me. I needed the reminder! Thanks!

  8. Ian says:

    None of the links are working [thought you may like to know]…

  9. Emma Davis says:

    So far an interesting read but the links used as examples don’t work which is a shame as I would like to read those additional articles in conjunction with this post.

  10. Good techniques, this really helps. All learnable, but needs consistent practice to enhance these skills.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. I strongly agree with your “story” strategy. In my experience, NOTHING pulls readers in as quickly as a story. Stories have a natural beginning, middle and ending and that can help the writer understand how to present it properly.

    That said, I strongly disagree with using “controversy” as a strategy. I particularly disagree with expressing things more strongly than you truly believe. There’s another name for that technique: dishonesty. I don’t think writers should ever be dishonest with their readers.

  12. Thank you for this post Harry; it was informative and engaging. Nothing boring about it. I love the examples you gave, they make your tips easy to implement, especially your example of the story. My head is filled with ideas.

  13. Martins says:

    Thank you Harry, i love this post, it have really help me a lot in my blog

  14. Mark Aylward says:

    Hi Harry
    Very helpful for an aspiring writer. In hindsight much is obvious, but the way you phrased and organized things made it resonate for me.
    Regards
    Mark

  15. Great tips! We also recommend info-graphics as a good way to spice up a post. Visual components enhance your content.

  16. I think a lot of times there is a disconnect between the different types of writers that exist (i.e. traditional journalists, bloggers, fiction writers, etc.). Each group thinks they can’t dabble in the others’ strengths, but it’s just the opposite. A good blogger should be able to channel an inner fiction writer, satirist or journalist when the content calls for it. Writing is too dynamic to limit yourself to your niche or job title. Think outside the WordPress post box! Thanks for the tips.

  17. About those dud links – yikes! I’ll get those fixed right away.

    Otherwise – I’m thrilled at the response. I thought the ProBlogger community would be wanting me to tell them something really interesting about the latest interation of Google+. Just two things:

    Yes, I think story is fundamental to our make up. Literally. It’s why movies and novels exist, but also why we tell jokes or exchange anecdotes. Using the same technique in a blog – well, duh!

    As for the dishonesty charge when it comes to being controversial. Hmm, I’m not sure about that. I think you can present a strong position in the first paragraph or two, then modify it subsequently. Take the headline for this article. Do I really think YOUR blog is dull? No. I don’t know your blog, so I don’t have a view. But the headline poses a challenge that is interesting (and which the article goes on to address.) There’s something spicy there, but not dishonesty, I wouldn’t have said.

  18. I usually just type in ALL CAPS to capture my readers attention.

    People love CAPS.

  19. Jon Loomer says:

    Great post! There are a few of my blog posts that I’d love to go back and “un-dull.” Adding a story, style or some sense of humor will go a long way. It’s easy to get sucked in by SEO and covering the facts. You can’t forget readability.

    Thanks for the info!

  20. Okto says:

    Interesting insights. This could be a new model to evaluate your own blog posts (to all fellow blogger). How this could be?

    Use the combination on your posts, let say you going to make 3 posts. Post 1 use the story telling, Post 2 use Controversy, Post 3 use Facts. Use example on each posts. Then you could see the stats on your post which one is getting the most viewed by your audiences. Interesting ways on strategy to build your blog, right?

  21. Tyler Novem says:

    Storytelling definitely goes a long way in making blog posts interesting.

  22. John Mihalik says:

    Thanks Harry! These are great tips that I will be sure to put in place. There’s just no reason that a dry topic has to also be boring.

  23. Marryann says:

    The best advice that I have ever received about writing came from a professor of mine when I was in university. He said, write something that you’d be interested in reading and chances are that you’ll find people are interested in reading it too. With that said, implementing the techniques mentioned above will definitely go a long way to keeping a reader (including the writer) interested in any given article no matter how ‘dull’ the topic may be.

  24. Donna says:

    Thanks for the info. As a new blogger, I can use all the help I can get.

    I also use a lot of photos. I am a jewelry designer and I include photos of my workshop and processes as well as finished products. I’m using my blog to introduce myself and show people some cool stuff (maybe offer some tutorials too), but then direct them to another site for purchases.