3 tips on using fiction skills to craft more engaging blog posts

Recently I did some complaining about the blogging/social media whirl, and have been doing some thinking about what I like to read, what I want to see more of, what posts of mine get the best engagement, etc. I’m coming around to something in my head right now. I don’t want to say writing is writing–there are somewhat different skill sets involved in blogging and novel writing. And yet they share certain commonalities.

1. Voice

Voice is important. For a lot of readers, voice isn’t a deal-breaker. If you have the ability to craft a great story, if it’s full of artful twists and turns of plot or stunning revelations of character, it may not matter that the language itself sounds like any other story on the shelf. And, you know, if you’re that awesomely talented at those aspects of craft, more power to ya.

Voice can make a special connection between reader and writer, can draw a reader into a type of story she might not relate to just because she relates to the voice. The way I might not have been drawn into the Stephanie Plum’s story had Janet Evanovitch’s New Jersey style writing voice not made me feel so much at home in her world. (Just the way my writing voice seems to push some readers away because I’m still getting comments that they’ve never heard anyone swear as much as my characters. Yet that’s where I come from and I hope it speaks to readers who come from backgrounds similar to mine. But I digress.)

Mostly, though, voice is just about being unique. About making the writing stand out in the mind of the reader, even when the topic is one they read before. It is, perhaps, even more important in blogging than in fiction just because we so often discuss popular topics–the things everyone is talking about–and because establishing a blog following can be so much about personality.

The best advice with regard to voice is to be yourself. You are unique, so if you don’t sound unique, maybe you just haven’t really found yourself yet. Keep writing. Force yourself to be yourself–only moreso.

2. Gifts for the reader

Does each post offer the reader something of value?

In fiction, every scene needs to offer a gift to the reader. There needs to be something new for the reader to unwrap and examine. A reason to be glad she spent the time reading through it. She needs to feel like she got something out of it.

This is why readers get upset with scenes that seem to be just marking time, or just put in because of course the character’s got to eat, right? No, if it’s “on camera,” if it takes up the reader’s time, it should be important.

If you’re taking up the time of your blog readers, I’m just sayin’ try to make it worth their while. Offer something of value to THEM.

I think a lot of us write with the idea that maybe if this is a thing for us, maybe it will be a thing for something else. And that’s a great start. Focus your thinking on HOW you’re going to make this something for them and see if that doesn’t make more engaging stuff come out of your fingertips.

If you have something you’re trying to work out or something you need to get off your chest, there’s a way to do that in which you’re sort of doing it AT someone, and there’s a way to include them. Figure out the latter.

3. Relatable Characters, vivid settings

The main character on your blog is you. Do you write yourself as a relatable protagonist? Characters readers relate to are those with both positive and negative characteristics, and they also care about something. Don’t assume that you always have the same group of people reading each post. Does each post show aspects of your personality? Does each post show that you care about something? Does it convey some kind of emotional quality?

This is sort of an odd thing, but it happens. When we’re writing fiction, we know we need to set the scene and that we need to describe the supporting cast. But then we get on the blog to tell an anecdote and we say “my dog” “my kid” “my co-worker” “my best friend” etc, as though other people are just going to get that.

I mean, what makes for a richer story, if I tell you about something my boss did, or if I give you a few lines about my boss who couldn’t find her own ass if you paid her which is ironic since it’s her favorite storage place for her head, and then tell you about how something went missing and I was the one who got blamed for it? If I tell you about something my co-worker said, or if I describe how she’s 50 and dresses anime school-girl chic and how I was trying not to stare at the end of her fake eyelash that was fluttering dangerously while she was saying it?

Don’t be afraid to use your fiction skills to tell your story. Claire Legrand did this beautifully in a recent post on her blog in which she took us back to her childhood and made herself a completely real character along with her kick-ass Aunt Martha. If you need an example, that’s how it’s done.

The reader wasn’t there. She doesn’t know you, your supporting cast, or where the event took place. And those things do add to story. The more of that you leave out, the more the story takes on a “maybe you had to be there” quality. Because the reader’s not there. Too much of what’s in your head never made it to the screen.

If you wrote about something and didn’t get the reaction you expected, go back and take another look.

  • Did you engage the reader with a unique voice and perspective? Are you human and real. or hiding behind a barrier of propriety?
  • Did you offer the reader something of value? Is there some important lesson for her, or the value of encouraging her to share her experience with the topic?
  • Did you use your fiction skills to make your story vivid and real? Did you write three-dimensional characters the reader can relate to and care about?

Some thoughts about getting comments

First of all, realize that comments are wonderful. They make you feel like you’re doing your job right and everyone appreciates them. But if you’re not getting comments, that’s no reason to feel like you’ve failed or whatever. There are TONS of reasons people don’t comment and it doesn’t mean no one read what you wrote or got something out of it. Just keep going and work on your blog craft until you are such a bad-ass blogger people can’t help but comment.

A lot of people who have spent a lot of time in online groups are trained out of saying things like “me too” and “I agree.” So even if they’re really nice people, they will not take up space with a comment if that’s all they have to say. These people need to feel they’re adding something of value to a discussion. Did your post spark discussion? Because if all you wrote was a report of how many words you wrote this week or how many days you wrote, if you didn’t explore anything beyond your own productivity, most people aren’t going to respond to that.

Writing Rule #1: It’s all about HER pleasure

If you write romance, you know this, right?

I see a lot of self-centeredness. I see it when I’m reading samples of books that aren’t selling. I see authors telling me what they want me know without giving any thought to whether or not I’m going to be entertained. As far as they’re concerned, I can wait to be entertained until they get done laying their groundwork.

I really can’t wait.

So their book feels, to me, like a selfish exercise (which everything in writing and life probably is, to some extent). They’re writing, not to entertain me, but because they want to write a book, dammit.

Which is cool, it’s a free country. But I’m going to buy a book from a person who thinks about my pleasure, who re-reads what they’ve written and asks themselves: am I leaving this in because I think it’s terribly clever or does it really add to the reader’s experience?

It’s the same thing with blogging. Most people don’t want to read someone else’s self-indulgent personal stuff. When it seems like that’s what blogs are about and people still flock to them, look harder, and figure out what that writer did to make it about something deeper, something that entertained or made people think or feel.

Am I saying this because I’m the mac daddy shit and the perfect blogger and novelist? Aw, hell no. Come on. Did I used to write boring-ass project reports and word count updates? You bet I did. Do I still sometimes write completely self-indulgent posts on which few people can find something to comment about? Sure I do. Do I have stuff in my books that could have been done better? Of course.

But I’m trying. You’re trying. I know, because that’s why you slogged through this post. I appreciate it and hope it was worth the time. Good luck finding your comment-reaping bad-ass blogger within.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “3 tips on using fiction skills to craft more engaging blog posts

  1. Susan,
    I hope I can someday be as bad-ass and fun and interesting a blogger as you someday. I keep ending up back on your site as I navigate the crazy mobius strip of new media and I always end up reading your whole thing, whatever’s up. You’re doing something right. Thanks for continuing to do it.

  2. Very good post, Susan. One of the things I like about some blogs is that I feel like I know the person because of the things they share and, like you said, their voice. I like to read about funny stuff that happened to them, serious things that happened, and also about their writing experiences. So when a blogger writes about a variety of things, I think it keeps things fresh. Of course, those of us who are doing ROW80 are going to blog about word counts and goals on check in days. But the other posts can be about just anything. I especially enjoy the blogs that make me laugh a little. Or at least smile. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I loved your post. The whole concept of understanding your audience and capturing your reader’s interest is something I teach in my university composition classes and my creative writing classes. Sometimes, I forget about that when writing blogs. Thanks for reminding me.

    Sharon

  4. @Chris- thanks, that was very kind of you to say. I’m glad you keep coming back.

    @LL- There’s nothing wrong with progress reports and word count updates. But there’s a way to do them better than most people do. The reason I mention that is b/c I understand that a lot of ROW80 peeps are disappointed in their lack of comments. ROW80 is supposed to be about community and they’re not feeling it. However, when I was a sponsor and tried to do my duty and comment, it was HARD. Most of those posts don’t invite real comment. They don’t open it up for a real discussion or give and take.

    Writing that kind of a post takes some more time and thought than just throwing up a progress report and being all me me me here’s my stuff. It’s not always easy. And maybe spending that much time on blog posts isn’t the answer for people who are also trying to write a book. Still, as far as engagement goes, you get out of a blog what you put in. Once you have some loyal readers, they’ll forgive occasional posts that don’t really speak to them. But when you’re trying to find those readers, if you post 4 times a week and 2 of 4 are me me me and kind of boring, people aren’t going to stick around and show up for that. There’s too much out there that’s more interesting and they’re not that invested yet.

    There’s a bit of an art to writing a blog that doesn’t go on for 4k words and yet still manages to connect. If you didn’t make your word count goals, why? Here’s the kind of thing that kept me from writing this week: [insert amusing and possibly slightly fictional anecdote]. If you did make your word count goals, what cool thing did you discover about your story or learn or remember about writing? If none of that occurs to you, what can you add to a quick mention of word count that would be interesting to a number of people? See any good movies this week? Make the post about something else that will make people glad they stopped by.

    @Sharon- Welcome. Thanks for your reply. I don’t know why we make blogging so much different from our other writing, but we do. I know I do.

  5. Susan, I’m really glad you shed some light on something that was bugging me a little. There have been several times when I checked in for ROW80 that I posted about something else at the same time. But then I would feel a little guilty because I felt like those posts were supposed to be only about ROW80. And I wonder if others feel the same way. It’s nice to know that it’s ok (at least with some people) to actually post about something else WITHIN your ROW80 update. Because I think of stuff sometimes when I’m doing the update, and then I’m like “well, this is ROW80, so I’ll wait until another post to do this”, and then I totally forget what I was going to post about.

  6. Wonderful post Susan with a ton of really great, useful information! I really loved how you connected each point very practically to blogging. It made sense. And FAB example with Claire (LOVE that post).

  7. Since I’m new to blogging, I am always looking for fabulous little gems like this one that just give me that oomph to make my blog a little bit better each time. This certainly gives me loads to think about. I never thought of myself as the protagonist of my own blog. That’s kind of cool.

    Thanks for the insight and entertaining post!

  8. New to blogging and your points are excellent and has me thinking about it in a different way, which is good. I have noticed too, that just as in fiction, I need a good “hook” to get them to keep reading. Catchier titles seem to do better as well. So many analogies to fiction writing! Thanks for this!

  9. I’m glad so many people seem to be getting something out of this entry.
    @LL- One thing I came to a long time ago was to try not to worry so much about everyone else and what they want to read. If I want readers, sure, there’s a symbiosis there and I have to consider them, but if you filter everything through what you should be doing for your loyal readers (or just how to get more readers), it’ll suck the fun out of it. If there are ROW80 peeps who just want to read the progress report, they can skim for that and blow off the rest. No one forces them to read so post what you want. Since it’s about community, I’m betting people will actually enjoy the opportunity to know you better.

    @Natalie- Claire is brilliant. I try not to waste a lot of energy on professional jealousy, but when it comes to her brain, I just can’t help it! Good thing she’s so darned lovable too.

    @Tameri- Actually, I don’t know that I ever really thought of myself as blog protag until I was writing this post and it just came out. And then I was like, oh, sure, that kind of makes sense. Which is what I love about blogging.

    @Angela- Getting people thinking new thoughts was absolutely my goal, so I thank you very much for your reply!

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  12. Molly

    What if you don’t think you have anything to say that other people would find remotely interesting?

    • Somewhere out there are people like you. Maybe not exactly like you, but there’s enough crossover of interests in the world that there are people who are very interested in the same kinds of things that interest you. One thing that’s hard when you start blogging is feeling obligated to please everyone who comes across your post. But you’re not. Anyone and everyone is free to click away from anything that doesn’t interest them. So don’t feel anxious about making everyone happy, or about boring people, etc., just keep plugging away and, over time, you should be able to attract some of those people who are interested in the things that interest you. I’m sure I write posts all the time that are of no interest to many.

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  14. Ruth Nestvold

    Another great post, Susan, thanks. Being something of a reluctant blogger (as I recently confessed publicly *g*), I think there’s a lot here I can use for my intermittent posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

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