Sunday, November 24, 2019

How To Use Your Blog To Tell A Story

How To Use Your Blog To Tell A Story A story can prick a conscience. A story can motivate into action. A story can cause outrage or empathy. A story can take a reader off of her sofa and on an adventure across the world. We often talk about using story in content marketing as a way to tell about our brand, our team, our product, or our service. We discuss how to use storytelling for businesses as a way to make themselves more human. We give pointers on how to write copy  in a story-like manner that would make it interesting to read. But what about telling a genuine story, free of the responsibility of overtly furthering your brand? In an age of long form content, it makes sense to delve into telling stories online. Our brains like stories. It makes them active, and if the story uses the right words, it causes our brain to respond as if what we were reading was really happening to us. Words that speak of action make our motor cortex buzz. Words that speak of textures get our sensory cortex alight. In other words, when we read a story, our brains light up like a meteor shower on a dark winter night. Our brain, on a diet of stories, is intense. The Plays the Thing, wherein Ill catch the conscience of the King. Hamlet What Makes A Good Story No one will agree on what makes a good story completely. We all have our own tastes that dictates which kinds of stories we are drawn to, and the kind of language we prefer to read. But there are a few ways to consider good story as you create your own. There are also a few generalizations that can tentatively be applied across the board, no matter which approach to story you take. 1. Simplicity is best. A simple plot is ideal. It is the convoluted plot that allows a soap opera to go on endlessly for 30 years. A simple plot, with simple motivations, will always be easier for you to write and a reader to follow. A simple plot can be deceptively complex, depending upon how you tell the story. Unique and conflicting points of view, jumping back and forth in time–these all make a simple plot compelling and deep. Can you sum up the plot in a sentence or two? Simple language that is clear and concise is also best. 2. Boring words dont work. Cliches  don’t work. Phrases that have become common don’t work. Our brain skips over phrases it is used to seeing without registering them as anything special. Common phrases (tough as nails) dont light up our brain. This isnt a license to write purple prose that is extravagant and excessive.  In his 10 Rules Of Writing, author Elmore Leonard ended his list with this: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Leonard understood how people read books, whizzing by solid paragraphs of purple prose to get to the dialogue. The dialogue, after all, is where the characters develop, where they interact, where the action happens. Avoid cliches, but dont turn to purple prose to do so. Look for concise and unusual word pairings that readers brains havent become accustomed to yet. 3. Get familiar with literary devices. When telling a story, you cant avoid using literary elements, even if you wanted to. These include things like  plot, dialog, setting, narrative, characters, mood, theme, and so on. Without them, there is no story. You could, however, avoid using literary techniques, though that would be a shame. These include things like allegory, irony, personification, metaphor, etc. They make your story richer. Even the simplest story becomes a real story when you use literary techniques. In The Old Man And The Sea, the plot could be summed up as an unlucky fisherman finally catches a marlin. Of course, Hemingway made that simple idea into much more than that, using conflict and allegory and imagery to tell something completely different. Use classic  literary devices  in your story if youre not sure how to make a boring story interesting. Once you realize how many  literary techniques  you can use to tell the same story, you wont suffer from the I dont have a story to tell syndrome that keeps you from giving storytelling a try. 4. There must be conflict. Without conflict, your story is not a story. It is an article. A listing of facts. It is informative but not dramatic, readable but not eminently so. Conflict is what propels and pushes a story forward, what keeps a reader guessing and reading. Though there has been disagreement on what kinds of conflicts are truly legitimate (depending upon your philosophy), here is a list of possible  narrative conflicts  you might use in a story: Man against man. Man against society/institution. Man against nature. Man against machine. Man against self. Man against God. Even a superhero cannot be so super that there is no conflict, no thing that could stand in the way. There must at least be Kryptonite. Conflict, in stories, is the engine that keeps them going forward.5. Have characters your readers can cheer for. Along with having conflict, you need characters that your readers can cheer for. Ever read a book and disliked the main character? You end up disliking the book, even if the story was good. Its tough to be sympathetic with characters we dont like. Readers want to be able to root for someone. They want a character that at some point is a fill-in for the heroic or the noble or the daring or the adventurous–the things they dont experience in daily life. Sometimes the best way to tell your reader about a character is to create another character who acts as a  foil. A foil contrasts another character in such a way that it highlights qualities that you could otherwise not reveal. For example, Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter. You learn more about these two characters by how different they are when contrasted with each other. How To Approach Storytelling Lets look at a few different approaches that people have used to understand story, a kind of crash course on some storytelling basics. The 7 Basic Plots In 2006, after 34 years of writing, Christopher Booker published  The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. In it, he proposed that all stories can fit into one of seven basic plots: Overcoming the monster. Protagonist vs. antagonist. The antagonist is threatening the protagonist and all that the protagonist holds dear. Rags to riches. Poor protagonist acquires vast wealth, loses it, then finally gets it back when he/she has grown as a person. The quest. Protagonist (and friends) set out to find something, facing many challenges along the way. Voyage and return. Protagonist travels to a strange place, faces challenges, and returns with nothing but valuable experience. Comedy. Protagonists are destined to be together, but something keeps getting in the way. By the end, it is all resolved. Tragedy. The protagonist becomes the villain, falling from grace. His/her death at the end is a good thing. Rebirth. The protagonist is a villain or unlikeable. By storys end, though, has completely turned around. Others have come up with their own efforts to diagram story in a similar manner to Booker. Ronald Tobias wrote 20 Master Plots And How to Build Them, coming to a different conclusion than Booker and going into more detail (get a PDF checklist of these plots).  Georges Polti created a list of 36 Dramatic Situations in which he came up with every possible situation that might occur in a story. These are not quite the same as categorizing an overall plot; they could be used in many combinations within one of Bookers plots. Whether you agree with Booker or Tobias understanding of plot, the key is to be able to familiarize yourself with available plots.  Understanding these plots may help you tell your story better just by knowing how you are approaching what you are trying to say. Brands can also  use these basic plots as a way to understand how to tell a story about themselves (and maybe understand they are not relegated to just being funny and inane). The Heros Journey In 1949, Joseph Campbell wrote a book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that proposed that almost all mythical stories across culture followed a similar pattern. This monomyth was known as The Heros Journey. Everyone from musicians, video game makers, writers, and movie makers have used The Heros Journet as a model for their stories. Blogger Lisa Paitz Spindler has done an excellent job explaining and illustrating The Heros Journey. While Campbells theory on how to interpret myths has come under fire as being an oversimplification of complex myths, many writers still turn to his theory for their stories. You can see several of Bookers seven plots as possibly fitting into The Heros Journey (quest, rags to riches, monster, etc.) Modern mythology, such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, reflect elements of this Heros Journey.  If youre a Star Wars fan, youll recognize the plot almost immediately. George Lucas all but followed Campbells approach to monomyth to the letter.  Movies have further refined and simplified The Heros Journey into a formula of sorts; you are likely quite familiar with the pattern you see here, even if in a simpler form. The Inverted Pyramid The Inverted Pyramid method of telling a story is most commonly associated with journalists and news articles. In it, you tell the most important part of your story right at the beginning and then gradually break it down with details as the story progresses. This is because people might not read the full news story, but instead rely on the headline and the first paragraph or two to get a summary of the story. It is also a way to play your hand up front, trusting that the dramatic and explosive beginning will securely hook a reader and keep them reading. Pennsylvania State University, Newsletter, January 2011 The important questions–who, what, when, where, how–get answered in the first paragraph. The why is explained later in the article, as less important details and backstory trickle out. Letting Readers Decide Do you remember the delightful Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a kid, I loved reading them. A while back, I attempted a kind of CYOA on the Todaymade blog in the form of a social media adventure. A bit corny, yes, but readers had fun with it. When you let the reader decide how the story unfolds, you get to write several alternate endings (a bit of fun) but have to keep everything organized (a bit tricky). Youll write several types of plots, conflicts, and endings with the same characters, which can be a challenge. You will also write so that the main character is the reader. There are other ways to make your story interactive. Michael Lutzs story My fathers long, long legs is clever as a story and incredibly creative in how interactive it is for the reader (follow it through all the way to the end). Lutz uses methods you could only use in online storytelling. Recommended Reading: The Hero With A Thousand Faces  by Joseph Campbell Save The Cat!  by Blake Snyder The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories  by Christopher Booker 20 Master Plots And How to Build Them  by Ronald Tobias 10 Rules Of Writing  by Elmore Leonard Putting Story To Work: Snowfall Snowfall.  You’ll either think of this as something from winter, or you’ll think of an avalanche and a 2012 online article from the New York Times. With Snowfall, the Times put forth an amazing effort to tell a story online like no one else had done before. They followed up their Pulitizer Prize-winning Snowfall with The Jockey and A Game Of Shark And Minnow; other publishers followed suit, covering stories about Greenland and the Iditarod. Big and flashy stories seemed to be the direction the web was heading. Dissecting How Snowfall Worked Lets take a look at Snowfall. In this classic man vs. nature true story, the Times started with the climactic moment of the avalanche. They got you hooked because you met characters in danger and distress and would hopefully keep reading to know what happened to them. Next, they filled in the backstory, introducing new characters and telling us more about all of the characters in a personal way so that we could identify with their humanity. After revealing the climax, they started back at the beginning so that the reader could put what they just read in context. They broke the story up into chapters, which helped keep the reader from getting confused. Snowfall is a long piece, and chapters help guide the reader through it. The Times used interactive maps and graphics, pull quotes, photos, and video to flesh out the story in an attempt to create extra content that was related, but not necessary, to reading the story. Readers could plow on through the text and read just the story, or they could venture into these extra elements and learn a bit more. This was no article. It was a story,  a true one, and the Times meant to put you right there, on the mountainside, to experience it.

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