People love stories. We love hearing, reading, and watching them. Fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. Give people a good story and you’re bound to find a captive audience somewhere.
But why? What is it about stories that captures our attention?
In many ways, human beings are hardwired for storytelling. From an early age, our environment conditions us to view the world in terms of cause and effect, action and reaction. We intuitively understand conflict in our day to day struggle for survival, from our ancient ancestors hunting for food on down to our own daily commute to the workplace.
Our lives are populated with a recurring cast of characters, family, friends, lovers, enemies, and the like. All of them affect us in some way, as do the places we live and visit.
Stories are how we make sense of it all. They provide a context and a framework for our existence. We intuitively think of our experiences in terms of story. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Conflicts develop and are brought to a resolution. Events always happen for a reason, with nothing taking place due to pure chance.
Stories provide structure and meaning, allowing us to make sense of the world and communicate our experiences to others.
When we want to communicate an important idea, we don’t simply come out and state the idea. We frame it as a story, positioning the idea within a context that helps to amplify and highlight its importance.
They provide an emotionally resonant context that allows people to grasp the idea on an instinctual level. Writers, politicians, and religious leaders have long understood that the best way to help people understand a concept is through storytelling, not a bloodless recitation of abstract data points.
So how does this relate to blogging?
From a purely structural sense, it should be fairly obvious how storytelling techniques influence blog writing. The beginning of a post generally introduces a problem that needs to be addressed, and the rest of the blog presents a range of solutions.
But you need a lot more than structure to tell a compelling story. Simply relating a few points about a specific topic isn’t likely to stick out in anyone’s mind. The whole purpose of blogging is to draw people’s attention and raise their interest in a topic. You’re not likely to do that with a post that amounts to little more than a detailed outline.
Fortunately, approaching blog writing as a form of storytelling can help you make blogs more compelling and engaging.
Industries May Be Boring, but Their Stories Don’t Have to Be
Let’s face it, not every industry seems all that exciting from the outside. There’s a reason HBO isn’t planning to do a dramatic series about the paper disposal industry. For every flashy Silicon Valley tech startup with ambitious plans for changing the world, there are probably a hundred companies tending to the more mundane details of our everyday lives.
These companies may not get flashy write-ups in Wired, Forbes, or The New York Times, but that doesn’t mean they can’t tell compelling stories about what they do. Every one of them exists to solve a problem of some kind, which means there’s a story to be told somewhere about who is affected by that problem, who is confronting it, and how it could potentially be solved. Blogs present an opportunity for organizations to tell those stories in ways that people can understand and relate to.
In order to do that, though, we first need to consider the two essential elements of every story: characters and conflict.
Quite simply, without characters, you don’t have a story. This is the human element of any narrative, the touchpoint that allows the audience to relate to the central conflict. Our natural tendency is to empathize with the main characters of a story, projecting our own experiences onto their situation. We try to understand the world through their eyes, to feel what they feel and think like they think.
When it comes to blogging, establishing compelling characters is crucial because you want the audience to relate to whatever industry you happen to be writing for. Oftentimes, you have the advantage of writing with a specific persona in mind, which provides you with a ready made character.
But it’s worth considering those characters in terms of a broader audience as well. What makes them sympathetic or relatable? How can you ensure that readers will put themselves in that character’s shoes when they read the post?
No matter what industry you’re writing for, some aspect of it touches the human experience. Find the elements that make these characters feel real. Maybe that’s an immediate motivation, an ongoing concern, or a long-term ambition.
Remember also that human beings are inherently social and tribal in their thinking. We identify and empathize with groups, so even if you’re writing with a specific group of people in mind, there are ways to make readers feel like they’re a part of, or at least understand, that group.
When you identify with characters, you care about what happens to them. Creating compelling characters is a critical step in drawing your audience in from the very beginning.
While characters are important, they don’t serve much of a purpose without conflict. Reading a profile about a character can be interesting, but if they’re not actually doing something, then you don’t really have a story.
Good stories use conflict to generate dramatic tension, establishing tangible stakes that matter to the characters and feel real to the audience. This tension is what keeps the story going because people want to know what will happen next.
It gives the story a propulsive quality, constantly pushing the narrative forward and escalating towards a climax of some kind. One way or another, the conflict has to reach a resolution.
Fundamentally, every blog post should present a conflict of some kind. There’s a problem affecting the characters (remember them?) that needs to be solved. The ongoing efforts to resolve this problem create the basis of narrative conflict that keeps the reader engaged.
In the context of blogging, the primary conflict is typically an industry-specific problem that the characters need to solve. Sometimes it’s a pain point; other times it could be a business challenge. Whatever the nature of the problem may be, the struggle to find a solution for it should create the backbone of the story the blog wants to tell.
The best conflicts are immediate and have far reaching consequences. Not only does an immediate problem need to be solved, but the way in which it is solved may create additional consequences down the line.
Suddenly, even short term decisions are fraught with importance because they may complicate future decisions. The way the characters face these difficulties serves as the narrative action driving the story forward to keep the reader engaged.
Does It Serve the Story?
When you’re writing for any industry, you’re taking on the responsibility for telling their story. In addition to reinforcing their brand, you’re presenting what they do in ways that audiences find compelling.
There’s an old adage many writers follow advising them to discard any elements in their writing that don’t serve the interests of the story. That means eliminating unnecessary details and avoiding additional information that doesn’t directly affect the characters or conflict.
If it doesn’t move the narrative forward, it doesn’t belong in your story.
By applying these storytelling principles to blogging, copywriters can craft compelling content that keeps readers as engaged in the latest IT innovations as they are in the latest episodes of their favorite cable series.