This is a guest contribution from Kelly Diels-Rostant.
“Where’s The Beef?” asked the lil’ ol’ lady and in so doing launched her late-blooming acting career.
It was 1984. Clare Peller was eighty-four years old. It was her first acting gig and it was a hit. Her Wendy’s spot spawned a series of follow-up commercials, launched a slew of licensing and merchandising deals (t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, oh my!), and became an instant cultural catch-phrase.
It may even have turned the tide of a presidential primary. In a televised debate, listening to presidential hopeful Gary Hart talk about his “new ideas”, rival Walter F. Mondale leaned forward and said, “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?’”.
Mondale, not Hart, won the democratic nomination. That’s the power of a pithy, provocative phrase. A hook. The beef. And your blog post has got to have it.
So let me tell you where your blog post beef is: it’s the best, most quotable line of your piece, and I promise you it’s already there.
Really, it’s there. You already wrote it. It’s just in the wrong place.
But first, a little background.
The most quotable line of your blog post could – and should – be the first line. The hook. Hook your readers.
In conventional newspaper journalism, the first line of the piece is the entire piece: Who. What. When. Were. Maybe even how and why. All in one line. The way if the reader stops reading right there after the first line (bad reader! lazy reader!), she still got everything she needed to know.
Which means she can stop reading, yes?
Is that what you want your blog readers to do? Stop reading after the first line?
So that’s instructive. To write effective, compelling, must-read blog posts, accept the dramatic imperative of classical journalism and hook your reader with the first sentence. Then abandon the methodology – do NOT spill the who, what, where, when or how. At least not yet.
Write hooks, instead, which means don’t give it all away the first line. In fact, don’t lead with any context at all. Context can come later, in the second pararaph, or even later, in the second section of your post.
Because the more provocative, mysterious and insensible the first line, the better the hook. Your reader has to keep reading to figure it out.
That was my evil bloggess laugh. It’s genetic. For example, remarking upon my progeny – one of whom is the incomparable, six year old Lola whose first viewing of 101 Dalmatians provoked her to confide, I really like that evil girl [Cruella DeVille], I like her style – Amanda Farough once said, “She’s only one bad science experiment away from becoming an evil genius.”
I digress. Sort of. But like any good villainess/bloggess, I do have a signature, sneaky trick in reserve.
It’s a guide to finding your blog post hook in one step.
Notice I said hook finding, not hook writing.
IMPORTANT: I want you to avoid performance anxiety – I mean writer’s block – because so far, there’s no little blue pill for that. Alas. Because if I sit down and try to write The Best First Line Ever, a hot-and-sexy hook, I won’t be able to get my writerly mojo up…so lo, the page will remain blank. Unloved.
If I just write and write and write until I’m finished (I call this Draft Zero because it’s the utterly unselfconscious and necessary blathering that precedes what writer Anne Lamott calls The Shitty First Draft) and then go back and ask,
Where’s The Beef?
Where’s the Quote?
Then and only then can I get it on. That’s when I’ll find it: the great line I’ve already written. The hook.
And you can, too.
So, when you’re hook-finding, ask yourself this:
Where’s the beef? If you were a reader, what line would tickle, stroke or slap you? Where’s the leap-frogging, cart-wheeling, caterwauling sentence that demands to be known? Where’s the wisdom? Where’s the beef? The quote? Doncha wanna give good quote?
Yes, you do – and if you can’t find a few foundational, architectural phrases that transform your piece from sentences laid end-to-end into “arcades and domes”, then your Draft Zero work is not done.
But if you seek, you will find them: arcadian, majestic, domestic lines of genius already embedded in your blog post. They’re there because you let yourself write them.
Yep, it’s true: there are gorgeous phrases and stunning sentences already in your blog post just waiting to be relocated to where they really belong.
And one of them is your hook. It’s already there, you already wrote it, you just have to find it.
That’s why this exercise is called Hook Finding, not Hook Writing.
So that’s all you have to do.
Flow, write, finish, realize you’re not finished (editing is 90% of real writing), ask yourself, where’s the quote?, and voila! there’s your hook. Cut ‘n paste to the first line –
which will, inevitably suggest a new narrative arc and the direction for subsequent editing, hallelujah!
– then revise your piece to support and amplify your new hook, answer the hook in the last line…
…and just like that, you’ll have a hook AND a cohesive, compelling, must-read blog post.
So that’s how you find your blog post’s hook and then use your hook to tie it all together. Tie it up.
Some people like it like that.
Like, your reader.
The one who was hooked. The one who read your piece right through to the end.
And like the hamburger-eating public. Asking Where’s the Beef? increased Wendy’s annual revenue by 31%. One stunning phrase in the right place – a television commercial, a presidential campaign, the first line of a blog post – can change everything.
So please sally forth right now and find your hook. Yum.
The Moral of the Story in Four Short Tweetables*:
Asking yourself “Where’s The Beef?” works for burgers AND blog posts. (click to tweet)
The more provocative, mysterious and insensible the first line, the better the hook. (click to tweet)
“She’s only one bad science experiment away from becoming an evil genius.” (click to tweet)
Hook Finding 101: Write; reread your work; ask yourself, “Where’s The Quote?”; and voila! Hook, found. (click to tweet)
*Wanna know how I wrote these tweets? I didn’t. I found them already written in my post. Yup, hook-finding works for crafting Tweetables, too.