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.