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?
(MoneyWatch) After General Motors (GM) bought his company EDS in 1984, Ross Perot used to say that one of the things that annoyed him most about serving on the automaker's board was its penchant for forming committees to investigate pressing issues rather than simply making a decision about the best way to proceed.
Not that GM is unique. Many organizations struggle with this aversion to decision-making. Meanwhile, the endless meetings do nothing to improve productivity. They become exercises in "feeding the monster," that is, following processes and procedures that serve the needs of the bureaucracy but not the needs of customers or employees. Many companies compound the damage by holding meetings to discuss future meeting (or "pre-meetings," in corporate-speak).
While there are many reasons to hold meetings, there is one singularly important component that is nevertheless often overlooked -- purpose. Managers hold meetings because that is what is expected of them. Such habits are a principal cause of dysfunction -- failure to clarify the reason for the meeting. Defining the purpose of a meeting is not the same as the setting the agenda; purpose is about why a group meets and what it expects to gain. Two questions arise:
- Why is the team meeting? Often the answer to this question is, "Because we have to." That's not good enough. The team should meet to review progress or update situations. It may also meet to air ideas and deliberate over key decisions. Updates can be done via email. People's time is better spent actually making decisions.
- What is our expected outcome? If you call the meeting, know what you want the outcome to be. This is essential. The reason meetings meander is that the leaders ostensibly running the gathering cede control to anyone who speaks, rather than proceeding a purposeful way.
Without clear answers to the above questions, you can bet the meeting will be a waste of time. It will neither succeed in generating ideas, nor trigger decisions. So forget it.
As much as meetings need to be defined in advance, there is one exception -- the "get-together."
A get-together is an occasion to bring people around a common issue. The objective is to familiarize one another with an issue and to share different perspectives on it. The purpose of the get-together is familiarization, rather than decision-making. While you may consider it a waste of time, its true purpose is inclusiveness. You want to give individuals an opportunity to voice their views.
That may head off disagreements in the future, when people may not agree with a particular course of action. While its common for employees to complain when they're unhappy with a given situation, being given a voice early in the process at least allows them can weigh in with opinions and suggestions.
Meetings can be notorious time-wasters. But when managers prepare in advance, clarify objectives, and set expectations, the meetings can be purposeful and productive.
If you aren't getting the results you want from Twitter, the problem might not be Twitter; it might be you. These tools can help.
If you aren't getting the results you want from Twitter, the problem might not be Twitter. The problem might be you... or at least the tools you're not using. Here are eight apps that can make Twitter a lot more efficient and effective:
Ever wanted to capture tweets from an event or occasion? Twitter's search only reaches back a few weeks so it's easy to lose a lot of your great content.
Adding content to a Storify story creates safe, long-term storage. You can also add YouTube videos, images, and text posts and use them to create compelling stories on other social media outlets.
Facebook allows you to easily preview links in your newsfeed, letting you see an image and some text. You can do that in Twitter as well with Embedly, a handy Chrome extension that automatically adds a link preview to tweets.
Then you won't have to click through to articles based only on a headline, which makes browsing your Twitter stream a lot more efficient.
Twylah is like Twitter for grandmothers. Just get a Twylah page and give it to your grandma; and she won't need to know about tweets and streams. She'll immediately understand how it works.
But it's not just for grandparents. Twylah takes all of your tweets and turns them into a full-fledged blog or branding page, including images and video previews, that anyone can easily browse.
Ifttt connects any two Web services together. (For example, if you take a picture with Instagram you can automatically save it to Dropbox.) The same is true with Twitter. You might:
Star an item in Google Reader and automatically Add it as a tweet to your Buffer
Publish a new blog post and automatically Publish it as a tweet
Favorite someone's tweet and automaticallyRetweet it to your followers
Slowly--or not so slowly--becoming overwhelmed by your Twitter stream? Do a little clean-up.
With ManageFlitter you can easily unfollow anyone that hasn't been active on Twitter for a while. Or you can unfollow someone who posts too frequently.
With so much content available, the trick is to find great content. A Zite account gives you personalized reading recommendations without having to pick people to follow.
Zite's recommendations also improve over time, since it learns the type of content you spend the most time on. Plus the interface is incredible; check it out for that reason alone.
Tweriod analyzes and makes recommendations for the best times for you to tweet for each day of the week, helping you reach your audience when they are most likely to be active and engaged. (For example, the best time for me to tweet links to new Inc.com posts are noon and 4 p.m. EST.)
Tweriod not only analyzes the performance of your tweets but also the activity of your followers. If you've ever thought, "I wonder why that tweet got so little response?" now you can know.
You probably know Buffer lets you schedule tweets, ensuring you don't overwhelm your followers with a flurry of tweets and ensuring important tweets go out when they will make the most impact.
You may not know Buffer also has browser extensions that let you add Web pages to your Buffer queue, automatically scheduling and posting them to Twitter. Buffer also integrates with a number of complimentary iPad and iPhone apps.
Sherry Turkle studies how technology is shaping our modern relationships: with others, with ourselves, with it.. As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other? Sherry Turkle studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication -- and asks us to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have.