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The Secret to Making Your Writing Stand Out Online

This guest post is awesomely written by Logan Marshall, who you should check out by the way!

In an attempt to hide the fact that we were all 98 pound weaklings, my friends and I used to challenge each other to see who was the bigger man.

We took it to the extreme.

We scaled our high school in the middle of the night, ran five miles completely barefoot through the woods and routinely attempted (extremely painful) acrobatics off a local bridge.

But that’s just the beginning. Compared to what you’re about to hear, that shit is tame. And far less dangerous.

Here’s how it went down.

It was mid January, the sun was sinking below the pine trees, and we had our dumbest idea yet. What started as “we should camp out in the yard” had somehow turned into “we should walk two miles into the forest and sleep on the riverbank – without a tent.”

Brilliant.

And so we set off into the pitch-black Maine woods. Pushing into the darkness and the cold, hurdling trees and crossing frozen streams – four nerds who had no idea where we were going.

After 40 minutes of walking, we (somehow) arrived at our destination: a half frozen river that snaked through the dark hills.

 

We made camp.

The sky was completely black as we gathered firewood and built a “lean to” that any boy scout would be ashamed of. But we were ignorant adventurers. And after an hour of pure “man labor” we were sitting around a crackling fire feeling like Bear Grylls.

And then the idea struck.

“We should swim across the river,” my friend Will declared. We all laughed and said “HELL no! There are freaking ICEBERGS in that water!”

And there were. Big chunks of ice floated in the arctic current, drifting by like lifeless polar bears.

But my friend was insistent.

“No, this is happening,” he said, shooting down our reluctant comments one by one. “No shut up. Stop being a bunch of girls and man up. We are DOING this!”

Before I knew it I was shivering in my boxers, standing on the riverbank and gazing down into the black water.

The woods were deathly quiet. Images of my imminent death flashed across the screen of my mind. I’d seen this in movies a dozen times. Someone gets trapped beneath the ice and can’t find the opening. Words like hypothermia and frost bite swirled through my mind like premonitions, but there was no turning back.

“We jump on three,” my friend said. “And remember, you have to swim across the river AND back. No wimping out.”

ONE…TWO…omg no, no please no…THREE!

Together we stepped forward and leaped into the air. Time moved in slow motion as I hovered above the river, gazing down into its obsidian depths.

The second my skin touched the water, I thought my heart stopped. All thoughts disappeared and my body instinctively thrashed to the surface like a hydrophobic dolphin. Gasping for air I let out a high-pitched wail, bellowing swear words into the night.

Despite what every cell in my body was telling me, I forced myself to keep swimming. When I reached the opposite bank, my body had gone completely numb. My skin burned. My head pounded, but I had to go back. I had no choice.

Cursing my friend and praying to stay alive I hurtled an iceberg and crashed beneath the surface once more – fighting forward with every ounce of remaining strength.

Now at this point I bet you’re probably looking at your computer with a look of amused confusion on your face wondering, “What the HELL does this have to do with writing!”

Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s an example of one of the least used (yet most powerful) tools in any online writer’s arsenal: storytelling.

You see, the human brain is hard-wired to seek out and appreciate good storytelling. It’s human nature. As Robert McKee eloquently puts it:

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”

Stories are a writer’s most lethal weapon. They suck readers in, captivate an audience and keep people engaged, entertained and devouring every last word.

Stories are the secret to making your writing stand out online.

Here’s how to use them.

Storytelling: THE Deciding factor

Before we dive into specific strategies on how to implement storytelling in your freelance writing or blog, there’s something I need to say. Something that is CRITICAL to your writing success.

I was listening to a TED Talk the other day with Andrew Stanton (creator of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E), when he said something brilliant; something that encompasses all the intricate pieces of a story into one single sentence:

“The greatest story commandment is: Make me CARE.”

Such great advice.

In every piece of writing you create, regardless of the topic, keep this quote in mind. If your writing doesn’t make the reader CARE, you simply can’t expect them to consume or share your content.

With this in mind, your task is simple:

Create something engaging. Build suspense. Evoke emotion. Write “Epic Shit.”

And what’s the best way to do this?

Yep. You guessed it – storytelling.

The Secret to Effortless Storytelling

… is not as glamorous as it sounds.

Sorry, but if you were hoping for some “magic bullet secret sauce of awesomeness for lazy people”, you’re gonna have to look elsewhere.

That’s not my style. Never has been.

Just like all other worthwhile skills, storytelling is an ability that is DEVELOPED over time through diligent and consistent practice. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Jeff Goins explains it like this:

“When my wife and I moved to our new house this summer (where there weren’t as many hills), I started running again. Because of the flat terrain, I found myself going for longer runs without really noticing it.

Soon, I was running nearly every day. I did this for a couple of months. I got into pretty good shape, but I did it mostly for the joy of running.

Since I was comfortable running three to four miles per day, I started increasing the distances. First, five. Then six or seven. Now, even as much as eight miles.

The weirdest part? I rarely feel sore.

I’m running the most consistently I’ve ever run in my life, and it’s causing me the least amount of pain.

What’s made the difference?

The answer is the same thing that makes it easier to write than ever before:

PRACTICE.

I didn’t set out to run every day without any discomfort. Nor did I ever anticipate being able to write with such ease. But it happened.

Why? Because I’ve started approaching writing like I do running. I get up every day, no matter what, and I do it. I try not to think about it too much or listen to my own doubts.

I just start. Some days are better than others, but the one thing that is constant is that I do it often. And it’s starting to get into my muscles. My body is beginning to remember. It’s getting used to the practice.

And slowly but surely, it’s getting easier.”

I love that.

To drive this point home even further (and give you an additional insight) there’s one more thing I want to share with you. It’s from an article I recently read by the infamous John Carlton.

In the article he writes…

“So the main rule for writer/marketers is this: Learn what kind of story appeals to your audience. If you don’t know, you’re taking a risk with anything other than a paragraph-long tale.

Don’t pretend to know how to weave a story that gets listened to. Instead, learn the craft. (Just as you would never pretend to be able to play guitar if you wanted to impress real musicians.)

There are no short cuts,  but you can get hip to good storytelling fairly quickly if you apply yourself.”

He goes on to say…

“You gotta tailor your tale to your audience. That’s the primary lesson. A story that bores the bejesus out of one person, may dazzle the hell out of someone else.

And you should get good at knowing whether you’re bombing or scoring quickly (so you can change course if necessary).”

Such great advice!

Storytelling is an art. Take the time to understand what kind of story will make your audience care, then start practicing.

That’s the secret.

How to Tell a Compelling Story in 3 Steps

 

You understand the power of stories and the “secret” to effortless writing. Now let’s get practical.

While only practice can give you that clear and compelling “voice” we’re all searching for, here are three key steps that should get you started.

1. Define Your Objective

Every good story has a purpose. A clearly defined point that the author is trying to convey.

Online, this often translates to a specific “call to action.” For example, you might create a story that is designed to get people to share your content, subscribe to your email list, buy your product or simply pay attention to your message.

So before you start, determine your objective.

Make it crystal clear.

Then move on.

2. Use a “Pattern Interrupt” to Suck People In

 

Most online writing is dryer than a saltine cracker. It’s flakey, bland, and boring.

Ryan Deiss puts it like this:

“Finding information on the Internet today is sort of like drinking tap water in a 3rd world country. Sure, it’s wet, it might even quench your thirst – for a bit. But before long, you’re vomiting out of both ends because the “water” (like most of the “free content” on the internet and blogs) turned out to be filled with dirt, filth and parasites.”

In spite of that hilariously graphic visualization, Ryan speaks the truth. The web has now become a virtual dumping ground for mindless rambling.

Chock FULL of pointless, boring, good-for-nothing content.

Because of this, people have been conditioned to expect mediocrity. Boring, cookie cutter content has lulled us into a half conscious browsing state, barely aware as we click from blog to blog.

BOOM SAUCE! That’s where you come in.

Your job is to grab these glassy-eyed people by the throat with unexpected verbiage and make them “Wake the eff up and pay attention!!”

In the mysterious world of NLP, this is called a “Pattern Interrupt.” In essence, a “pattern interrupt” is a strategically surprising action or statement that catches people of guard and forces them to give you their undivided attention.

As Andy from StomperNet puts it, “a Pattern Interrupt is the distant cousin of “Exceed Expectations” but with Moxie.”

Too funny. But very accurate.

For an example of what I’m talking about, watch the beginning of Frank Kern’s latest video. Frank’s a master at pattern interrupts and between the rap music, driving, special effects and “corn hole”- I’d say this is a pretty killer pattern interrupt.

Ultimately, creating a captivating intro that “hooks” your audience comes down to just two steps:

  1. Understand the “norms” in your niche. Figure out what people have come to expect.
  2. Do something “completely different.” This can be a question, a ridiculous story like mine, a contradictory or compelling statement – you get the point.

Done right, this works like nothing else on earth.

As Jonathan Feilds puts it, “pattern interrupts give you the power to change behaviors, opinions, assumptions and decisions in the blink of an eye. Yours and others. In business and in life.”

3. Tell Your Story

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wow, great advice. “Tell Your Story. That’s genius.”

But hold up. We’re gonna break this down.

While there are no specific “rules” for creating a compelling story, there are some guidelines.

Here are my top four.

1. Tell your story chronologically

Every story has natural “flow” or momentum to it.

With this in mind, the simplest way to convey any story is to tell it chronologically. To start at the beginning and move through the action step by step until you reach the “climax.”

As Jeff Goins adds, “Ira Glass calls this (chronological storytelling) the “anecdote” — a story in its purest form — and likens it to a train on which you’ve invited others to join. Those riding along can feel that you’re headed towards a destination.”

Very cool stuff.

2. Every story needs conflict

Every good story needs conflict, suspense and tension. Ideally all three. Without “emotional” conflict or something that must be overcome, you quickly drift back into the saltine littered desert of boredom. Not where you want to be.

As Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once wrote, “No one wants to listen to a story about the valley of the Happy People.” Movies pedal sex and violence but passion and tension are the same thing. Don’t just “report” what happened – dramatically proclaim your epic tale. Even if your writing topic is as boring as a brick, find a way to weave in some mystery and anticipation.

Find the obstacles. Find the drama.

If things go static, stories die.

Want to improve your ability to create or communicate conflict? Read fiction. Novels from people like James Patterson, Steven King – heck, even J.K. Rowling (Yep. Big HP fan right here. Get over it)

3. Brevity is key

Excess wordiness will kill your writing. Clutter is a disease. Sentences like, “Every fiber in Bob’s body prepared to fire like gazelles at the waterhole as lions circled the herd, climaxing with a lurch and a leap of forward momentum unlike he had ever experienced before!” can be shortened to “Bob ran like hell!”

As William Zinsser writes in his classic work On Writing Well, “The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple —there must be something wrong with it.”

Keep sentences short and punchy. No wordiness. No B.S.

As David Siteman Garland says, “If you want some fluff, go pet a bunny.”

4. Make your readers solve problems

Finally, don’t “give” your readers the satisfaction of knowing the ending to your story right away.

Make them work for it.

They love it.

As Andrew Stanton (the Pixar guy) puts it, “Don’t give the audience 4, give them 2+2. Take them almost all the way there, then let them solve the problem themselves.”

The Greatest Storytelling Tactic Of All

I’m gonna wrap things up now…

…then give you a chance to join my upcoming project at the end of this post.

But before I do, there’s something I want to talk about. Something that makes everything you’ve learned so far look like “small potatoes.”

What strategy am I talking about?

Two words: OPEN LOOPS.

If you’ve ever watched Lost, 24, or The Sopranos you know all about open loops, but you may have never called them that.

Here’s how they work:

You’re fully captivated by a story, you’re on the edge of your seat, wanting desperately to know what happens. The action rises. The tension builds. And then…the episode is over. You have to tune in next week to see what happens.

Here’s an example.

Get it?

You build excitement and the expectation of higher value, then leave the story UNRESOLVED. This way people have to wait (or travel to another website…hint hint) to see the resolution.

This is brilliant. Works every time.

There are countless ways you can apply this to your online writing, but here are my top two:

1. Create “context” between your content

Most blog posts and auto-responder messages exist in isolation. They cover entirely different topics and stories.

This is fine and very common, but if you want to drastically boost your open rates and comments, I highly recommend creating “context” between your content and using open loops to create anticipation for each new “episode.”

Read that last line again. Let it sink in.

I first learned this strategy from Andre Chaperon who calls this a “Soap Opera Sequence” and writes:

“Each new email installment is like a new episode.

There is a connection to previous emails (context), and there are connections to future emails/events (open loops).

Missing an email in the series would have a similar effect as missing an episode of Lost/24.”

Super powerful stuff.

2. Use cliffhangers to leverage your guest posts

 

Finally, open loops or “cliffhangers” can also be used to leverage the power of guest posting to your advantage.

Instead of just writing a post and linking to your byline at the end, you build excitement and the expectation of higher value, then leave the story UNRESOLVED. This way people have to visit your landing page to know what happens.

Here’s and example:

“While all these strategies will give you big-time results, there’s one tactic that outperforms all others. This tactic works like nothing else on earth. It allowed me to generate an ABSURD amount of email subscribers over the past few weeks. I still can’t believe the results its gotten me.

To see a crystal clear example of what I’m talking about, head over toFree Life Project. You don’t wanna miss this.”

 

But don’t just exaggerate in order to get people to click. Just like my swim across the river, your writing should take your readers on a journey.

Shock them with the icy surprise of a pattern interrupt, fight through obstacles and build anticipation, then warm your readers up around a fire of satisfaction. Reward them for for sticking with you. Really over deliver.

Do this, and your readers won’t just make it through your writing alive, they’ll climb from the banks of your article feeling strong, inspired and alive.

This is your objective. Now go write a story.

Logan Marshall is on a mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs change the world with their message.If you’re one of them, check out the cinematic trailer to his upcoming blog.

Tags:
Category: copywriting

36 Comments on "The Secret to Making Your Writing Stand Out Online"

  1. Thanks for sharing this Story =)!

  2. Janet says:

    Indeed this is a great tactic. People love to hear stories. If you show facts and figures along-with stories, the story will carry more weight. If you include examples of famous personalities, the story will get life. If you include emotions in your stories, your products are sold. Thanks for sharing useful information.

  3. Lanre says:

    WOW! You know, I’ve been taking some copywriting lessons lately and one question that kept bugging me was, “my story, just how am I going to get it across…perfectly?” A copy without a compelling story is just not a copy and this post was right on track. Really inspiring.

    Thanks for accepting this guest post, Oni. I guess the story hooked you too.

  4. Amit Shaw says:

    Hey Logan Superb article. Thanks for sharing this long article with us :).

  5. Amit Shaw says:

    Hey Logan Superb article. Thanks for sharing this long article with us :).
    Amit Shaw

  6. Great post Logan thanks! You are absolutely right. It is essential that people make their posts engaging. Writing stories is a great way to do that, so I think you should try to take advantage of that.

    • Exactly. Unfortunately most posts out there are boring, but if you can mix things up and throw in some engaging stories people will take notice. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Tayo Solagbade says:

    Logan. I must congratulate you for this insightful and very “meaty” post. Your writing style, and the ideas you have shared with us, confirm ONE thing. You have found a formula, for mixing creative fictional writing, with copywriting, to boost – & sustain reader – response rates. Excellent stuff!

  8. Yeremi Akpan says:

    Written masterfully by a real story teller!

    People just love stories, and I recall that the use of story-telling made Jesus’ teachings as memorable as they proved to be.

    Use more stroies and mesmerize your audience.

    • Great example Yeremi! And thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  9. Rob Wilcox says:

    Great post, very inspiring, and though provoking.

  10. Sheyi says:

    Logan, I cuold not read through all the lines but i quiet agree with you about story telling. It surely captures the attention of the person you are talking with and also make them to do a particular thing as well depends on how much your story enters the spirit soul and mind.

    Sheyi

  11. Am away on holidays with limited Internet access, so was only able to read a small part of this post. It sounds interesting, so I’ll be back when I return home.

  12. gaurav says:

    Great post! Logan Marshall is a smart guy. I specially liked the part with the Ryan Deiss comment. How about you, Bamidele Onibalusi?

  13. Mark Aylward says:

    Logan
    Fascinating post. Most people know that storytelling is a necessary component of effective communication, but this layout and detail are awesome. Do you also use the power of storytelling in video content?
    Cheers
    Mark

    • Hey Mark,
      I don’t have tons of experience with video, but I’m working on developing those skills right now. I believe that video is the future of the internet and that storytelling will be CRITICAL to effectively leveraging video to its full potential.

  14. Mk Akan says:

    Very interesting and useful one Logan.
    Stories always works because it stirs emotions.

    i really need to brush up my story writing skills.

  15. Joe Boyle says:

    First and foremost, great job on the writing technique here. I was always told, when I began my writing classes in seventh grade, to use anecdotes in every story. I never fully understood why until about a year later, when a teacher made a good point about those animal abuse commercials. My teacher had said, “Picture the same company running two ads – one that is a minute long and shows many abused animals alongside a sad song, and one that was thirty seconds long and was just text saying the orginization’s means. Which would earn more money?”

    The simple truth about making your writing stand out is that you must view it from the eyes of your audience. If your website is about reviewing games that a ten year old would play, short, sweet, and to the point is your key. You can use stories, but they have to be in the mindset of one who would read it.

    It’s all about the reason and the reader, in the long run.

  16. Bill says:

    This post just crushed it! I’ve been inching towards storytelling in my own niche (job hunting). In everyday life I’m a pretty good storyteller.

    In fact just the other day I was in line at Costco and someone cut in line right in front of me. My day wasn’t going so well, so I felt like I was gonna go off like an atom bomb dropped into Krakatoa. I felt the rage boil up, literally heating the skin on my beat red face.

    Right at the last minute, I remembered something I’d posted on my blog that just might help me out in this case. It was just in time too. It’s something that most of us know, but we don’t always listen to.

    I walked up to the man and told him…

    You’re gonna have to check out the blog to see what I told this joker.

    • Haha nice work Bill 🙂 Using open loops in the comments…very clever

  17. alanc230 says:

    Have you ever come across Strunk and White’s classic little book on writing, “The Elements of Style”? You should. My favorite piece of advice from S & W is “Omit needless words”.

    • Definitely Alan. It’s a classic. And yes, I believe that clutter kills most writing. Cleaning up your pieces is the best thing you can do to communicate more clearly and persuasively.

  18. Jane says:

    Storytelling has great impact on blog success. It has great power to make visitor’s eyes glued to your blog post. The power of your story will convert casual visitor into repeat visitor.

    Thank you for posting useful information.

    • Exactly Jane. Especially in today’s crowded blogosphere, people are looking for more then the same old “top 10 lists” and rehashed advice. They want personality, connection and new insights they can’t find anywhere else.

      Storytelling is the best way I’ve found to satisfy all of these objectives at once. Thanks for the comment!

  19. Lee Ka Hoong says:

    Storytelling is a great way to express the information, I believe that readers would be more interested to read story rather than a bunch of formula or standard information.

    You have an in-depth post here Logan!

    • Thanks Lee! And yes, I believe that people don’t just want to learn more information, they also want to be entertained and engaged as well. And if you can effectively combine the two…you’re golden 🙂

  20. Rick owens leather jackets says:

    Hy, oni. I really enjoyed your post. Its not easy to write content that will stand out especially for a newbie writer. But this post will help a lot. I like the idea story telling.

    Thanks

  21. Never have I come across such a detailed and subjective post. I am sure anyone who reads this post will surely learn atleast a few new things.

  22. Glori says:

    Thank you for this post. Sometimes, I get so caught up in presenting information that I forget to tell the story that inspired it in the first place.

  23. Gautam says:

    Hyy, oni nice writing post thanks for this awesome post about writing secret.

  24. how to geek says:

    Thanks for these tips.writing tips thanks.

  25. GidiBoy says:

    I’m so impressed with this post.

  26. Wonderful Post thanks for this post. covers facebook

  27. An outstanding post is something that convinces readers that it is beneficial to them. Essentially, a persuasive post requires a good narration or story that can relate to the idea pointed. Although redundant words may seem inappropriate repetition of the thought is a good way to write convincing blogs but of course it has to be in moderation. Great ideas here! Two thumbs up!

    Spatch Merlin
    How to Blog Guide

  28. Jackets says:

    Oni… Another great post as usual.

Onibalusi

Welcome! I'm Bamidele Onibalusi, a young writer and blogger. I believe writers are unique and highly talented individuals that should be given the respect they deserve. This blog offers practical advice to help you become truly in charge of your writing career.

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