4 Strategies for Better Story-Telling

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At iFusion, we like to say that “we write for humans.” The first time I heard someone use the phrase, I though, “duh! Who else would be reading this stuff?” But in an era that emphasizes search engine optimization and “findability,” it’s a mantra that serves us surprisingly well in the work that we do.

One thing that I’ve noticed throughout my career is that when people talk about great writing, what they’re really referring to is great story-telling. A lucky few are born with this skill, but for many others (myself included), it’s something that has to be learned and practiced over time. Below are some of the most important things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Start With a Reason to Write

I begin each writing session with a question: “Why am I writing this?”

The easiest way to approach this is to think about what you want your readers to do once they’ve finished your piece: is there a call to action? Can the information you’ve provided help someone make a decision? Perhaps the goal is simply to build awareness or pique someone’s curiosity.

Starting with a goal in mind is also a great way to stay focused. If you find yourself getting off track, revisit your goal and see if the direction you’re heading aligns. If not, take a step back and rethink your strategy.

2. Ask the Right Questions Ahead of Time

I’ve found that good story-tellers also tend to be very curious; they like to ask smart questions and rarely settle for boring answers. Whether you’re doing background research or conducting a formal interview, try to look beyond the superficial details and get to the heart of the matter. Having solid background information is definitely an important part of the process, but it can’t stand up on its own.

Instead, seek out the aspects of your subject that make it unusual or complex. Look for the angles that have already been covered, and then go in a completely different direction. Everyone has a story, but not everyone thinks that story is worth telling; as a writer, it’s your job to help them see a different perspective.

3. Identify the Human Element

As I mentioned already, we are in the business of writing for humans. And humans love to read about things that they can relate to. We also love to read about each other and our various quirks, loves, frustrations and failures. If your draft feels like it’s missing that “special something,” this could be it.

A great way to add warmth to any piece is with a strong quote from someone who knows your subject or has an interesting opinion about it. If a quotable source isn’t available, think about the things that your audience is likely to identify with: perhaps a pop culture reference, interesting metaphor or personal anecdote. Most of us are looking for inspiration, enlightenment or a new way to think about something: how can your story facilitate that need?

4. Have a Point of View

To the frustration of my professors, one of my greatest sources of inspiration in college was Hunter S. Thompson. As a journalist, Thompson turned the notion of traditional, objective journalism on its head by inserting himself directly into the flow of his stories; as a storyteller, he was an absolute maniac. It made for incredible reading.

Many blogs and social media personalities work the same way today. On these channels we are encouraged – even expected – to show off some personality. Unless the situation truly calls for otherwise, add a personal touch to your writing. Objectivity certainly has its place, but is far from required these days- often, it’s also what makes the writing process so appealing in the first place.

Photo Credits: Alex Eylar and Sharon Drummond via Flickr. These images have been resized.


 

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