Stories generally consist of three separate parts connected by the actions of the characters in them. In its simplest form, a story contains a beginning, a middle part, and an end. Not one of these elements is fixed, of course. However, for the purpose of nonfiction, a linear type of storytelling is generally favorable. This does not mean one has to strictly follow rules; there is always room for change and variation. Still, it is a prerequisite to understand the basics of storytelling. Then it is quite easy to apply these principles to nonfiction writing. So, like any in story, we shall begin at the beginning.
The purpose of any story’s beginning is to entice the viewer or reader. This is the point when you spark interest in your article or blog post. Especially online, the 15-second rule applies. If the reader is not captured by your writing within the first couple of paragraphs, then you have already lost a reader. Every beginning is crucial and leads to what is hoped will be a fascinating final conclusion. You might ask yourself about the role of characters. Even if it seems less obvious, even blog posts and articles have characters, even if they are not fictional. Nonetheless, they are representations of the real people, and that makes them characters.
A news story — even in a tech blog — has characters. Some of these characters may not be entirely human, but they have a character. As long as you manage to accept this to be the case, then fleshing out the rest of the story is easy. Good marketers employ this technique exactly to inspire an emotional connection. Apple is known to do this in trying to give a computer not only a personality, but also a higher purpose in the world. Yes, it is indeed corny and somewhat overly romantic. However, the truth is, it works!
Take for instance cinema, where even objects that would be inanimate in the real world are given the chance to live. In marketing, there is a good example for this. Apple is going back to its roots, where the marketing also reflects this vision of simple and effective technology. The products it makes are the service of creativity and productivity. This is the message it tries to get across. To some it may sound presumptuous, yet without doubt it captures the imagination of millions. Storytelling is at the very core of the company’s marketing. Stanley Kubrick was a fan of Nescafé commercials because they told stories so quickly. A story’s purpose is to get a message across, and ultimately this is also the sole function of marketing.
Blog posts are not any different. When I start writing, I know what my message will be. However, sometimes the story that takes the reader to this revelation or conclusion is the hard part to find out. Imagine it like the myth of the Minotaur. As a writer, you are the hero finding your way through the labyrinth. A few times you end up at an impasse. In writing, this would be the equivalent of writer’s block. I get it all the time, and the solution is either taking a walk or deleting a paragraph. Most of the time, starting over is much quicker and efficient than editing an existing text. Problems can be solved much more quickly by using a different a perspective. The aim is, of course, to slay the Minotaur, which is the same as finding a satisfying ending to your story, blog post, or article.
This is the main event of the story. What are the obstacles that a character must overcome before the goal can be achieved? Whatever they are, it is in the middle part of a story where this happens. In an article or blog post, structurally speaking, the quest consists of the thematic backbone, which will help the reader understand the message. Whether or not your message is met with agreement or opposition is a whole different story. People like to read about experiences, not just opinions. Stories of how devices or anything are used fascinate any reader online. This what they are looking for when they search for information on a particular subject. A blog should inform about that subject and not just lecture the reader.
That is the quest. It is the journey you take, in order for the reader to enjoy information presented in an entertaining package. In every article you read, there will be a visible red line leading you through the subject. With great confidence I will make the bold claim that any proficient writer, whether consciously or unaware, uses this storytelling structure. It is really inevitable if the goal is to make an article accessible. What does it mean to make it accessible? Well, if something is simple to understand, it also allows for a bridge to a reader’s emotional core. If writer were a sniper, he or she should be aiming for this emotional core. By this I do not mean a physical part of the body, but rather a person’s soul. Why would someone read a blog post about how to use storytelling in blog posts? The answer would probably be because this person aims at improving their writing. Still, this does not save a writer from the risk of being boring.
Slaying the Minotaur
Not so long ago I watched an inspiring TED talk. It was called How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek (video below). In it, he makes several juicy examples illustrating how the mechanism of leadership and marketing work. There are three questions that he asks. In the context of finding new ways to invigorate your writing style, these questions could be of great import. For example, all the companies or leaders of man that we admire act the exact same way. They have something in common: they all do the opposite of everyone else. Sinek calls his idea “The Golden Circle.”
Why. How. What.
Every writer or company knows what they are doing. They also most certainly know how they do it. However, and here is the important part, very few individuals and companies know why they are doing what they are doing. The why is not making a profit; this is a result. Why defines the purpose, the cause, and the belief. Why should anyone care? It is the most obvious thing to do to go from the outside inwards. However, try going from the inside out. Apple is a good example, because it is easy to understand, Sinek exclaims. In the video, he makes the following example.
A normal marketing campaign from Apple might sound like this: “We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. Want to buy one?”
This is how Apple actually communicates: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”
Regardless of your opinion on Apple, the difference is glaring. This reversion proves one crucial aspect of good marketing or writing, for that matter. People buy not what you do, they buy why you do it. He goes on to make two other examples using Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright brothers. The outcome is the same; the message is the same.
Why Do You Write Today?
This is the right question to ask. People will read your blog not because you are simply a good — or even funny — writer. They will read your stuff because they share your dreams, beliefs, and aspirations. These are the elements you use as a writer. It is unimportant what it is you are writing; everything you write or say will always reflect your personality. Until you understand this, no storytelling will work. Storytelling only happens on a personal level, right in your heart, where your emotions sit. I know it can be a daunting task, especially on the Internet, to lay bare your emotions, aspirations, and beliefs. There will always be opposition, though there will also be someone out there who feels what you feel. If anything counts, then nothing is more rewarding than someone reading what you have written and responding to it emotionally.
Any writers out there? Do you want to write something meaningful? All it takes is a good vocabulary, and more important, it takes courage to simply be who you really are. Readers will notice sincerity, and they will appreciate it. That is the Minotaur at the center of the labyrinth. You want to slay it? Then be yourself. The best story you can tell is your own. Where else can you find an endless pool of inspiration and experience?