Writing is not easy. Wait – start over. Writing consistent quality material can be difficult at times. Wait – still not right. Let’s go back to the first one. Writing is not easy. Not great, but good enough to get going here. The collection of targeted writing that I have produced is currently very limited in scope and quantity. Therefore, the data set with which to draw conclusions from is rather small. Many of the topics that have resulted in something that I would consider to be higher quality have been generated in creative outbursts where my poor fingers felt like they couldn’t keep up with the torrent of words and ideas flowing from my brain to the screen. Then there are days like today where I have a day off, my family has left for school, and I have space and quiet and all the coffee that I can drink and the intent to write some really amazing words… and nothing seems to want to come out.
So after perusing the ever-growing list of topics and ideas in the post backlog and not getting excited about any of them it felt easier to tackle a whole new topic. What patterns exist that can form the template (or templates) for things to write about? This makes a lot of sense as having a template can actually serve to break through the mental roadblock for days like this. Stuck? Grab a template, follow a formula. The trick is to get past that initial mental barrier and get the juices flowing and then the words just seem to start flowing. Like they are doing now. Two paragraphs into this topic the keyboard is clacking and the ideas, while still a little sluggish, are starting to flow a little bit.
So what makes up a nice, entertaining post? Most of the time there are a number of thoughts and ideas behind posts that I create. The idea is generated somewhere randomly, written down as a post idea, and moves to the back recesses of my brain where it percolates over time, often popping up when I see news articles and other related topics. This allows the idea to be fleshed out a little bit and once it reaches a tipping point (whether it be enough data and research or my excitement level) the post idea is brought up, the word fountain and frantic typing commences, and after some light editing and polish a new post is birthed upon the world. The structure that many of these posts take follows a common sequence, so now is a good time to attempt to define that pattern. It should be noted at this point that this is not something that I feel that I came up with on my own. My beautiful wife, who happens to have a masters in English, probably knows the official name for writing structure being described here. She also gets mad at me when I tell her that I have no clue what a dangling participle is and simply structure my writing around what looks right to me. It is at this point that I will freely admit that even though she claims that writing and grammar follow structured patterns and formulas and that my Engineering brain can talk through logical workflows and mathematical formulas all day, mixing the two doesn’t work for me for some reason. Following in that vein, an official term for this type of writing will not be provided.
Anatomy of a Story Time Topic Template
In order to illustrate this template the post “What’s Your MDI?” will be used as reference material as it very much follows this template.
Step 1: Introduce the Story & Hook Your Reader – Length: 1-3 paragraphs
One of the goals of a good piece of writing on the internet is to hook a reader and get them to get past the first couple of sentences. The goal with any good writing is to attract eyeballs and to keep the brain behind the eyeballs intrigued enough to keep moving down the screen instead of bouncing off for the next best thing. This can be done by starting this type of post with an entertaining story. In the MDI post, this is done by telling a story and introducing a character named Todd. Todd was not a caricature or made up for this story – I really did work with him. He was a great guy. He was also overtly pessimistic. Small details can give depth to the people in a story and keep it entertaining. The key part of this story was to lend a little humor and set up the amount of money needed for Todd to step away from work as that would introduce the topic of the piece.
At this point in the story, having the small details in there matters, but the details themselves aren’t important. I don’t remember what the actual numbers were. And the number was something over a million but I don’t remember any specifics there. The point is you don’t need to. Make up some details, change names, but keep truth as the backbone as that helps to keep things authentic.
Step 2: Lay Out the Topic – Length: 1 paragraph
Now you get into what this post is about. This should relate directly back to the title, topic, and goal of the post. It should be called out clearly and explicitly what this topic is and why it is here. Finally it should setup the rest of the post. In the MDI post, it sets up a shift to next segment at the end by hinting that coming up with a MDI and actually executing on a MDI are two wildly different things. This sets the idea and theme for the rest of the material.
Step 3: Sidebar, Anecdote, or Rabbit Hole – Length: 2-3 paragraphs
In the posts that I write this usually becomes a rabbit hole. In the MDI piece this turned into wanting to get the idea of a quote from a movie into the overall story so two paragraphs were spent extolling a movie that my son used to watch over and over and over when he was younger. This one turned into a rabbit hole as I rambled quite a bit, but in general at this part of the template, a second story keep things moving along. We are now up to two stories for the piece.
Step 4: Expound on the Topic – Length: 2-3 paragraphs
This is where the overall theme and thread are picked back up, clarified, and deconstructed. In MDI, the goal was to first cover coming up with MDIs and how easy they are to think of. The first paragraph in this section covers ways to come up with ideas. This happens to build off of the rabbit hole story that was explained in the section above. The goal is to present the first half of the theme and give methods and ideas for coming up with MDIs and back up how easy the process can be. The goal here was to call out how anyone can do this part.
Then in the second paragraph we shift over to the second half of the theme. The hard part. This time the focus was less on the difficulty and more on another story that lays out someone who followed the spirit of the MDI through to reality. This person also happens to be a 8-year old girl. So while the implementation is hard, maybe it is possible to do. This section was not intended to be burdensome by the difficulty, it was meant to be inspiring and motivating.
Step 5: Conclusion – Lengh: 1 paragraph
Here the whole topic is wrapped up with some personal achievements and suggestions along with a call to action that furthers the encouragement from the previous section along with a prompt for the reader to pick up the baton and run with it.
And that is it! The anatomy of a story-based blog post. Writing this structure definitely helped me to overcome my mental blocks this morning and hopefully gave some ideas for your own writing as well. In summary, for this type of post the following template was generated:
- Introduce the Story & Hook Your Reader (1-2 paragraphs)
- Lay Out the Topic (1 paragraph)
- Sidebar, Anecdote, or Rabbit Hole (2-3 paragraphs)
- Expound on the Topic (2-3 paragraphs)
- Conclusion (1 paragraph)