Tag Archives: gifts to the reader

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.


Filed under writing

Beware Groundhog Day

Probably the thing I loved most about this movie was just getting a new term for the same ol’-same ol’ phenomenon.  My husband walks in. I say, “Hey, sweetie, how was your day?”

The movie gives him another option to choose from:

  • Grunt
  • Same shit, different day.
  • Groundhog Day

What was cool in the movie, though, was that it wasn’t ACTUALLY the same day over and over. Not for the viewer. Part of what makes it enjoyable is looking for the things that are the same, and for the things that Phil does differently and the way that changes events. So Groundhog Day, the movie: sweet, funny, entertaining.

Groundhog Day

  1. A movie in which a character must relive the same day over and over until he gets it right.
  2. A description of a day, or other experience, that feels tediously repetitive.

Movie = good, in life = blah, more often than not. But what about books?

The reason I bring this up is because lately I’ve noticed a personal intolerance for Groundhog Day.

The way a lot of books are written now is very visual and very TV/movie-like. Which I like. And in TV and movies, there are often only so many sets. So in a story, there are going to be places that are familiar to your characters and your reader, places they keep going back to because they have to (like school), or because they’re comfortable there (like a favorite coffee shop). Some familiar places that come to mind would the Sunnydale High library, Roswell’s Crashdown Cafe, Keith Mars’ PI office, Clark’s loft in the barn.

Having these kinds of familiar places in books is good, partly because it provides a kind of shorthand for the reader. We once we’re into the story, we don’t have to keep describing places as much because the reader already knows where we are, what it looks like, and how it relates to the life of the character. We can all concentrate on what’s happening.

But I think I get fouled up when there’s too much sameness. When there’s a combination of same place and similar sequence of events that feels like a Groundhog Day. When I feel the characters and I are experiencing a similar set of events, a change affects a different outcome to the scene, but the scene itself doesn’t give me enough that’s unique to make me feel the gift of having read it. (I’m big on gifts to the reader. Don’t get me started because I have to out this morning and there’s a towel on my head.)

I’m lazy. Even in my head. If you take me from one location to another, I like there to be a reason. Because, yes, people meander and take drives and go to coffee shops for no reason (even though they invariably stink like coffee). But characters aren’t really people. That’s why we don’t need to be in on their brushing and flossing habits either, unless it has something to do with the DNA trail or there’s a zombie behind the shower curtain.

So if we have to go into school again because that’s the time of day this scene takes place, that’s cool. I get the necessity of that. But I don’t need to go through the whole approach to the school, the bell rings, visit my locker, get a dirty look from the same person in the same place as yesterday. Too many same place, same sequence things feel like tedium, rather than a gift. Start where the new stuff happens. If there was something important in that sequence for me to see or experience, it’s important to find a way to make that new for me.

This is on my mind because I’ve complained about it a few times recently, and I’ve got a Groundhog Day twin-set of scenes in Heroes that I know will have to be combined or in some way fixed. It’s such an easy thing to fall into when you write because you know it’s different this time, and sometimes don’t realize–it’s really not different enough.

So what about you, readers? Is this all in my nit-picky head, or do you experience Groundhog Day when you read too?


Filed under tips, writing