Effective writing often takes the shape of a story. Whether it is actual fiction, or copy for a landing page, a story helps convey the intended message to a reader while naturally calling them to action. Capturing and maintaining the attention of online readers can be a challenge. It's even worse when they know you are trying to sell them something. However, mastering the art of storytelling in your online writing can be a game-changer, as it is a way to communicate at a deeper level, getting under the guard of your readers.
Let's delve into the techniques and strategies that will help you engage your audience through compelling storytelling, creating a powerful connection that keeps them coming back for more.
The Power of Narrative:
Stories are primordial. There are only a few unique stories, where the details change, but the plot stays the same. They speak to us at a fundamental level, and we are aware of their shape, meaning, and importance. You know a love story, just like you know a tale of revenge. And so do your readers. And when you make use of that knowledge, you tap into a powerful and established lore that gets your point across.
One narrative may evoke emotions, spark curiosity, or create a memorable experience for the audience. Setting your message among that known story takes it directly to the reader's imagination and understanding, bypassing any doubt, hesitation, or disagreement.
For example, think of these two approaches. Imagine you are selling a course on how to make money. You could promise it will result in millions in profit, but that is hard for your readers to believe. But if you focus on Bill who went from poverty to wealth because he started his own business, only after learning how to be rich, the message you want to sell becomes far more palatable. And that is because it became a story.
There is not one narrative, one story, or one way. It is an art as much as a skill, but the importance of weaving storytelling into your online content to captivate readers cannot be understated.
Knowing Your Audience:
With a background in rhetoric, I understand identifying the target audience. It is my bread and butter. So take this to heart. You may have a message you want to get across, but that message will change if you are communicating with adults, or with children. It will change if it is your boss, or your coworker, or your child. It will change if it is someone highly educated, or someone without any education.
Understanding your target audience is not only important, but necessary when crafting your storytelling approach, just as it is with crafting any content. If you can, research your audience. Identify their interests, preferences, and pain points. Tailor your storytelling elements to resonate with their specific needs and aspirations.
In writing, there is a saying. If they are hungry, feed them. And that is true. Your storytelling is meant to give your readers what they want, whether it is something they actively call out for, or something they secretly need. It may be a look into the lifestyle they could have, or validation of who they are, or even a surrogate for their emotions so they can feel what they want to feel. Regardless, it is about providing that something. And when you provide that something, like a sandwich, it comes layered with your message, or actual intent.
Structuring Your Story:
Now, stories are an entire field of study. There is a lot to know, and I can't even begin to go over the basics while doing them justice. Suffice to say, stories have structure. They follow simple rules, some more simple than others. A well-structured story will share some basic elements, such as the point of view (often a protagonist), the goal, and the journey. It has a beginning, middle, and end. That can be expanded. You want a strong opening that grabs attention, a compelling plot with rising tension, and a satisfying resolution. It often helps to incorporate conflict, relatable characters, and a clear narrative arc which keeps readers engaged throughout your online content.
The structure of your story will depend on your message and your audience. It may also depend on your skill, or the time and effort you want to invest in the content. It can be as much as you can afford, or the bare minimum, and results will vary.
A story can be told in a few lines, or it can be a million word epic. One is not more right than the other. But when you have knowledge of the mechanics, and can confidently play around with them in your content, you will begin to see what works for you, and what does not.
Show, Don't Just Tell:
You have probably heard that old saw. Show, don't tell is the go to criticism of bad writing. And it is the same for any piece of content. Imagine a dry, boring class lecture. The professor is rambling about facts and figures, the students are half asleep, and there is no learning happening. That is telling. Now, if the teacher had an engaging lecture, with visuals, stories, and a method that related the coursework with the lives of the students, that would be showing.
You can do this by use of vivid descriptions, sensory details, and concrete examples to immerse readers in your story. There are better techniques, but that is for another article. When you show, you can evoke emotions, create a visual experience, and make your writing more engaging and memorable.
Emotionally Connecting with Readers:
Emotional connection in online storytelling is a difficult ask, but it is something you should attempt. It demonstrates authenticity, getting to the root of communication, and aligns the reader with the writer. Explore techniques such as using personal anecdotes, relatable experiences, and emotional triggers to forge a bond with readers. Tap into universal emotions that resonate with your target audience.
I hate to say it, but a go-to for many writers is outrage. There are a lot of things wrong with the world, and by commenting on them, or working in those moments of betrayal, injustice, and horror can get your readers activated. They will be angry. They will hate it. They will want to right a wrong. Maybe, just maybe, that aligns with your interests.
You see it often. It might be more subtle, but it is there. Ever been asked to donate, with a picture of some poor starving child pushed in your face? There is a story there. It is a story of the world's imperfection. It is meant to get you motivated. And that motivation might lead to a donation. There is a lesson there if you are interested to learn.
Utilizing Storytelling Formats:
There are different storytelling formats that work effectively online. Do not think of stories as only a traditional book. They go beyond that. Include case studies, testimonials, interviews, or even fictional narratives to convey your message. Little quotes on a landing page are enough to weave a story. Pictures of a dog recovering from sickness into health are a story. Each format can create a distinct storytelling experience that engages readers in different ways.
This is often where your creativity can shine. In fact, if you are looking to find an edge, look at where you can make a new type of story. Find a social platform, figure out how it works, and frame a story. It does not have to be immediate or obvious. Think about a story that a LinkedIn page might tell. Some IT guy works for years at the same shop, gets fired suddenly, spends months finding a new job, then lands it. He is now happier than ever. Turns out, it was secretly an ad for his new employer, showing it is a great place to work.
If you are clever, these niches might become your path to profit.
Balancing Storytelling and Information:
Now, we have covered showing and telling. That overlaps with the need for balance. Storytelling is about conveying information, like that message, but information comes in different forms. Facts, knowledge, description. You are free to break it down how you like, so long as you realize what is light and fun and what is heavy and dull. You need to know how to integrate storytelling elements while still providing valuable insights, practical tips, or educational content, while making sure there is not too much of anything to turn your readers off.
Often, the way to do this is to break up the facts and fit them between elements of the story. A little here, a little there. You can grow your skills and learn how it goes together. At times, and depending on the format, it might be spread across different sources. But that is highly dependent. The main thing is to know when you are too focused on the sale, or too focused on the story. Reread your work, maybe workshop it with others, and see what people think. And always have an idea of what your audience expects. They may be fine with a lot of facts.
Experimenting with Multimedia:
This is the computer age. You are reading online content. You might write online content. It does not have to be just words like traditional print. Explore the use of multimedia elements to enhance your online storytelling. Integrate images, videos, infographics, or interactive elements to bring your story to life. Multimedia can deepen engagement and create a more immersive experience for your readers. It can be spread across platforms. An article leads to a YouTube video, which leads to a forum post, which leads to an argument on a subreddit which leads to another article.
It might take extra time. Personally, I hate it. I am picking up the skills, practicing in my free time, using free tools, but that detracts from my writing. Still, it is expected. It is what your competition is doing. It is what we all have to do. And it can convey story as much as any piece of writing. Figure out how to do just that. Let it work with your content.
We get back to our main thrust. Storytelling is meant to help you communicate your chosen message. And that message is meant to get readers to do what you want. At times, what you want them to do is the same as the message, but can sometimes be something else. It does not have to be direct, and subtlety goes a long way. One is called a Call-to-Action, while the other is Priming.
Now, if you are not familiar with Priming, it is about establishing a state of mind in the reader that is conducive to your desires. Think about a story where a loved one dies tragically. Sad, isn't it? The reader is now in an emotional state, and thoughtful about mortality. There is no immediate need. You were clever enough to not be overt. But just over here happens to be an ad for life insurance. Are you and your loved ones covered? Maybe you should check it out.
That is Priming. But what is a Call-to-Action?
It is a bold declaration, a clear piece of advice, or wisdom. It is spelled out for the reader. It suggests to them to do this, and do it now. That beautiful slice of cake, mouth watering burger, pile of cheese slathered nachos? It is telling you to go out and eat it. Right now. Do it. That story about rags to riches? Buy this book, it will make you a millionaire. That post by an influencer? She looks so good, you should wear her exact look. You can get it for half-off when you use the following code.
Figure out what you want your readers to do, and how you want them to do it. Then make that the thrust of your story. Is it a secret thrust? Is it the overt message? That's for you to decide.
Mastering the art of storytelling in online writing holds immense potential for engaging your audience in a profound way. By understanding your audience, structuring your story, and evoking emotions, you can create a captivating narrative that resonates with readers and keeps them coming back for more. Embrace the power of storytelling and unlock the potential to connect, inspire, and influence through your online content.
Remember, a story is about a journey. You are taking the reader along a path. Ups, downs, with a destination in mind. It is, at its core, a manipulation. It is a lie. A fiction. So, make it beautiful. Make it meaningful. Make it better than the truth.