Why Your Content Needs a Narrative, and Some Tips for Writing One
How many emails, news stories and other pieces of content do you read a day? I’m willing to bet it’s somewhere in the ballpark of almost a hundred. More importantly, how many of them do you remember? Probably not many—because your attention wasn’t held for long. That’s fine since not all content is created to be memorable. However, content with the express purpose of educating, informing and evoking feelings can only be successful if the reader is emotionally invested in what they’re reading.
This applies to most content—whitepapers and annual reports aren’t safe without a narrative unless you want them to collect dust. It’s true that adding a narrative requires creative thinking and hard work, but thankfully you don’t have to channel your inner Shakespeare on the regular to be successful in your content endeavors.
The good news is that anybody can learn to astonish with prose. Here are some tips to make your life easier, your content exciting and your boss happier.
1. Keep it short and sweet
As Hemingway said, “It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.”
There’s no need to pad your writing if the point you want to accomplish comes through with only a few words.
2. Steer clear of overly-complicated language
An amusing word is anathema. Bane, taboo, pariah, abomination and condemnation are just a few synonyms that work much better in everyday writing. If you’re not writing for academics it’s best to keep the vocabulary straightforward—you can convey powerful messages with simple words. We all have a fear of sounding dull, but I promise that nobody is going to judge you for keeping it simple.
3. Kick the adverbs to the adcurb (when you can)
As easy as it is to always resort to the ‘ly’ words when the moment calls for a descriptor, don’t. Instead of happily, try something like “he was bursting with joy.” Descriptive language that evokes human feeling is the best way to hook readers since they can connect on a deeper level with what you’re trying to say. Not every adverb is terrible, but make sure to use a little variation in your descriptors to keep readers hooked.
4. Learn to think like a writer
Conjuring a story where there isn’t one is where we all hit a wall. As cliché as it is, think outside of the box. There may not be anything more to write about your specific subject—but what about something closely related? Below are a few questions that can help you think about ways to write about a topic that may seem overdone.
• What does the landscape of the topic you’re writing about look like now?
• How have other people talked about this same topic?
• Are you repeating what’s already been said elsewhere?
5. Like any good story, you need a beginning, middle, and end
It’s an oversimplification, but it’s easy to start writing and trail off without ever ending the story arc—nobody likes a cliffhanger. Ideally, you’ll present a climax before wrapping everything up. This is where you define the crux of your content, reveal the plot twist, or say something shocking/surprising to the reader.
6. Utilize outside eyes
If possible, always ask someone to look over your writing from an outside perspective. Pick someone honest—someone not afraid to tell you the truth. Getting told what you’ve created isn’t great stings a lot, we’ve all been there. But, it’s the only way to graduate from writing paperback novellas to winning the Pulitzer Prize. Figuratively, of course. Practice does make perfect in this case.
7. Pictures also make perfect
Use graphics whenever possible. There’s a reason TV overtook radio as a medium—humans are multi-sensory creatures. Images, graphics or even video (if it’s a web-based channel) can spark your reader’s imagination and break up the monotony of words on a page.
The most important tip for telling a story is to write with your voice—when you can, that is. Don’t be afraid of breaking standard writing conventions if you need to. Remember, there’s no right way to write a story—narratives aren’t binary. The possibilities for your content are as numerous as the stars in our sky.