The approach to writing strong online content is based on storytelling, but it’s important to understand that not all stories are built the same. As an avid reader of fiction, I appreciate the impact and resonance of stories. Humans are natural storytellers and respond positively to messages presented this way. However, I can’t help but contrast digital communication with creative fiction, if only to help myself gain a better understanding of the subtle differences between these types. Three characteristics that distinguish the types of storytelling include:
- The reader
- The story structure, and
- The value of brevity in the writing.
Readers accessing online content have a myriad of choices. Many are driven by an objective and arrived to a site through a search engine. The competition with other similar options is strong and if the reader doesn’t get the point of the story, they’ll quickly bounce to another page. In contrast, readers settling down to creative fiction are seeking entertainment and are prepared to spend 300 pages or more with the same story.
The story’s structure
Online articles and blogs begin with the most important concept to grab their audience’s attention. This structure is often referred to as the inverted pyramid (check out this great explanation of the inverted pyramid from MindTools). The key message or point of the story is stated at the beginning. Subsequent paragraphs drill down into the details. Appeal to readers’ tendency to skim! On the other hand, a novel has the luxury of a captive audience. This provides the opportunity to build a narrative and reveal clues slowly and strategically to move a story forward until the big reveal at the very end. Would the murder mystery genre be as popular if the killer was revealed in the first paragraph?
Visitors to a blog or website are looking for information quickly. Too many details increase the risk of losing the audience’s attention. In contrast, novels use long, detailed descriptions to transport a reader into the story’s universe. Great pains are taken to describe minute details of a crime scene, or the lush background of a clandestine rendezvous. Plots are developed slowly and strategically over hundreds of pages.
It’s essential to know what kind of story you want to tell. The skills of a great novelist don’t automatically translate to the online environment. To communicate effectively, consider the type of reader targeted, structure the story accordingly and use detail strategically. What kind of content will you be creating?