A couple of weeks ago I went to visit my sister and two nephews – as bed time came around on the first day, Archie (aged two and a half) dragged me upstairs saying “Story, Story!” – clearly it was story time. I was handed a pile of books and started with a story about Dinosaurs being wiped out by underpants. As I finished reading that one, Archie insistently thrust another book into my hand, something about a family of pigs going for a picnic; then one about a friendly digger and one about a Gruffalo…  eventually I was rescued from the seemingly endless pile of stories by my sister and gratefully scurried downstairs.

I arrived downstairs to find my sisters partner telling an amusing anecdote about something that had happened to him earlier that day and a few hours later I was tucking into yet another story via the novel I was reading at the time. 

I don’t think I know anyone that doesn’t love a good story! Stories activate different parts of the brain and bring in all the senses and emotions and we are much more likely to remember facts that are woven cleverly into a narrative than those presented in a list.

For me, writing a blog post is all about telling a story and without further ado, some (hopefully helpful) tips on how to construct a compelling narrative:     

Grab peoples interest 

You could write the blog post in the world, but unless you have a compelling title, it’s unlikely people will read it. There is a reason that “clickbait” headlines work as well as they do! A good headline will also inspire people to share your blog post! Some of the best ways to grab people’s attention:

  • Present a challenge
  • Ask a Question
  • Surprise the reader
  • Share a problem
  • Show empathy

A new tool I’m enjoying at the moment is the Coshedule Headline analyser http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer it looks at your proposed title and gives you a score out of 100 based on length, emotion, use of words and various other key factors. If you have spent time writing a post, it’s well worth spending 3 minutes making sure your title is compelling!  

What is the point?

Essentially, why are you writing this post, what is the message you are trying to get across? Is your message clear, concise and repeatable? Is your reader going to walk away with what you wanted them to walk away with and is it going to be valuable to them? If you don’t know why you are writing the post, you can’t expect your audience to find it useful!

Emotion, Facts and trust.

Going a little bit deeper (and adding some Greek to make me sound clever!), a compelling narrative has three components, all of which contribute to a good story. Be sure to scan through your post to make sure you touch on all three to give your readers the best possible experience…

Ethos – Credibility – can people trust what you are writing

Logos – the facts – the cold hard detail

Pathos – emotional appeal – anecdotes and metaphors

The rule of three

Sticking with the magic number 3, the rule of three is a writing principle that tells us that the reader is more likely to remember information that comes in threes. Structuring your narrative in this way combines brevity and rhythm with a digestible amount of information that creates a pattern.  It’s an idea born out of oral storytelling and you just have to look at the world of literature and advertising to see how often it is used.

Use language appropriate to the medium and audience 

A scientific white paper will necessarily be filled with clever scientific terms and long words because this sort of language is appropriate to the medium and the audience. A short blog post on the same topic should be lighter and have a wider appeal – perhaps explaining a complex issue in a short and simple manner.     

Helicopter view versus detail view

Build a narrative that covers the big picture, yet focuses in on key details, give your readers a broad understanding of your topic as well as drilling down on the important points. Imagine the difference between looking down on London from 3000 feet in the air – parks roads and buildings – and being at street level where the individual details are much more obvious.

Repeat and sum up

A short summary at the end equips your reader with the key facts and takeaways from your article.

For this post, if you have made it to the end… when writing your post, be sure to have a compelling title and a reason for people to read your post. Add a sprinkling of facts, a reason to trust what you say and an element of emotional appeal. Write for your medium and your audience. Pick three key messages and look at the big picture as well as the detail and don’t forget to sum up (for the skim readers out there!)

Incidentally, my title scored a 69 in the headline analyser (marked up for being helpful and marked down for too many words), I roundly failed with applying the rule of three and I’m hoping credibility comes from my previous efforts…. but I think I covered everything else...