Storytelling is an important part of modern content marketing. But writing good stories that engage prospects is an art that challenges some small business marketers. How do you write a good story?
To make matters worse, there is not really a consensus regarding how to write or tell good stories.
For example, Truman Capote, an American author and playwright, once told The Paris Review, “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy.”
Capote’s approach presumably won’t help a small business owner struggling to write good content that will attract, engage, and retain customers.
Similarly, author Vladimir Nabokov reportedly wrote all of this stories on index cards. The idea was that he could write scenes out of order and move them around later. Again, while interesting, investing in pencils and index cards is probably not going to help many small business owners or marketers write better copy.
Taking a Journalist’s Approach
One option is to approach writing content and stories like a journalist. This approach includes looking at content writing — an article, an about us page, or the script for a video — in a workmanlike way, building or crafting the story.
This approach to content marketing storytelling may, perhaps, be divided into three sections: (a) knowing why you’re telling a particular story and its purpose; (b) using journalism fundamentals to build a foundation and framework; and (c) including rich context, analysis, and interest throughout the story.
Have a Point and Purpose
If you boiled marketing down to nothing but its essentials, you might say that its one purpose is to sell. While this is true, it is not terribly helpful when you’re thinking about the purpose for an article or script. If you only focused on the sale, everything you produced might sound like a bad infomercial.
While the sale can be your ultimate goal, it will take time to build trust and to build a relationship with your potential customer. So don’t leap to sale, but, instead, focus on the conversation.
Consider for example, a recent article and slideshow on the Best Made website. The post, which is attributed to the company’s CEO Peter Buchanan-Smith, seems to be aimed at letting readers know that Best Made’s products are carefully designed and tested.
“La Isla (The Island) is the creative refuge for one of the world’s greatest chefs, Francis Mallmann,” Buchanan-Smith wrote. “It was here Francis stoked the first fires that helped make his name household, and forged an inimitable way of life that transcends the world of food. This small island is nestled at the end of a distant lake in Patagonia, facing a wall of rock called the Andes. If the island were a small skiff, Francis’s cabin is at the prow; his bedroom window faces defiantly into the storms that roll off the mountains and batter the island. This past winter (summer back north) we landed on the shores of La Isla, after almost three full days of travel from our offices in New York. We lobbed onto the dock: two whole pigs, boxes of vegetables and fruit, duffle bags of gear, an early edition of Robert Service’s Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, and the first run of our new down outerwear program.
“When you set foot on La Isla, thigh-deep in snow, the distance sets in: between you and home, between you and family, between you and the nearest hospital. There’s no margin for error here; everything you bring must perform. And so the details we obsessed over in the months of prior product development were put to the test.”
When you read this, do you get the sense that Best Made went to great lengths to test is new down outerwear? How much time did the company put into the details of its product design? If the purpose was to communicate the product’s careful design and testing, did this content work?
For each article you write, start with a simple point or purpose. Tell a story that at once engages the reader or viewer and fulfills your purpose.
Build on Strong Foundation and Framework
Journalists follow conventions when they write. Not every article is a wholly creative act. Rather, there is a pattern that might be outlined like this:
The lede is the first paragraph in your story. A lede often seeks to answer several questions.
- Who. As in, who is the article about?
- What. What is the article about?
- Where. Where did the events described take place?
- When. About what time did these events take place?
- Why. Why did it happen?
- How. As in, how did it happen?
Similarly, a lede could offer an analysis or describe an event. Regardless, it should engage the reader immediately. When you set down to write, think about how you can grab attention in just the opening paragraph.
The nut, which is sometimes called a nut graph(s), provides the meat of the story, answering important questions. It is in these sections that the reader should learn what your story is really about.
Finally, the support shores up your story. It provides closure in some way.
A construction analogy might help. The lede is the foundation. It is the thing the story rests on. The nut graphs are the framework, the walls, and the doorways that give you the sense you are in a building. The support is the electrical and plumbing that makes the building functional.
Weave in Context, Analysis, and Human Interest
Once you have the story’s construction underway, with a good foundation, framed walls, and the inner workings in place, you can finish it out with context, analysis, and human interest.
Look back to Best Made’s Buchanan-Smith’s short post. Notice how Chef Mallmann’s home is described.
“If the island were a small skiff, Francis’s cabin is at the prow; his bedroom window faces defiantly into the storms that roll off the mountains and batter the island.”
This sentence tells us many things. We learn something about Chef Mallmann’s character, since “his bedroom window faces defiantly into the storms.” We learn something about the island itself, “storms that roll off the mountains and batter the island.” And ultimately this context helps us understand how Best Made products are built and tested.
In short, to build your story, have a purpose before you write. Once you know an article’s purpose, try using known structures like a lede paragraph, a nut, and supporting information to frame the article. Once the article is framed go back through and reread it, weaving in context.