Have you ever wondered if people even care about your writing?
You pour out your heart and soul, but sometimes that feels like shouting your words down a bottomless abyss.
You know you have a world of knowledge to pass on – but you have no idea how to wrap it into an exciting package your readers will love.
Could it be that … your writing just isn’t engaging enough?
After all, if even famous writers like Hemingway or Steinbeck took many, many years to excel in their craft, how are you supposed to instantly produce a moving masterpiece out of thin air?
You just feel overwhelmed.
And when the time comes to crank out another post for your blog or writing client, that huge blank space with the relentlessly blinking cursor … frankly, it’s terrifying. Because you fear the response to your efforts will be radio silence … once again.
Luckily, you have a fool-proof technique at your disposal that is guaranteed to make your readers long for every powerful word you write.
And it’s been around forever.
The Incredible Power of Stories to Win Hearts and Minds
As humans, words are perhaps our most powerful tools. Words have crushed souls and built empires. So let me tell you a little story about the true power of words.
It’s the story of Scheherazade, a young girl in ancient Persia, who was facing execution, scheduled for the next morning.
Curiously, she had brought herself into her situation on purpose. She had agreed to marry the king.
The king’s first wife cheated on him, and he felt so angry and bitter that he decided to make sure it never happened again: by bedding a new virgin wife every night and having her decapitated the next morning.
But Scheherazade wasn’t just stunningly beautiful; she was also extraordinarily smart. She had a plan to snap the king out of his bloodthirsty frenzy. Every night, she would tell him one of the most bewitching, mesmerizing stories he had ever heard and interrupt it right at its peak, promising to continue the next night.
And every night, the king spared her life for just one more day.
But for how long could she continue this dangerous game?
You’ll have to wait to find out. But first, let’s take a look at the powerful trick Scheherazade employed.
Why a 30,000-Year-Old Trick Still Works Today
As long as humans have existed, we have been hardwired to satisfy one urge. (No, it’s not what you think.) I’m talking about storytelling.
Some 30,000 years ago, when our ancestors carved the thrilling tale of their last mammoth hunt into rock walls, their scraggly-haired friends must have consumed these stories eagerly.
That’s because the need for stories is rooted deeply inside our brains.
It’s the reason you love watching movies or TV. The reason you exchange your latest personal adventures over a cup of coffee. The reason we tell bedtime stories to our kids and the reason you can’t help but check your Facebook page for updates from friends.
We’re addicted to stories because we get the thrill of a new experience without risking pain or hardship ourselves. And they’re a form of communication. We live and relive events through stories.
And our brains process stories differently. Stories engage a deeper part of our brains than any logical explanation ever could — it’s the emotional part, the “Ugh-I-once-felt-that-too” part. And we connect at a much deeper level than information delivered in the abstract.
Author David Mamet famously stated, “The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama.”
When you think about it, that’s exactly the reason we read the entertainment, sports, even politics section of the news.
Humans crave drama – so feed it to them like candy!
But how does this apply to you as a blogger?
How to Avoid Drowning in a Sea of Forgettable Bloggers
As stories connect so deeply with our emotions, content that uses storytelling is also more memorable than bare facts alone.
In fact, stories are 22 times more memorable than bare facts.
Pack any bit of information you want to pass on to your reader into a story, and it will stay with him. Stories mean emotion, and emotion means deeply engraving the lesson into your reader’s brain.
Here is a demonstration. Which advice would you have listened to more closely as a kid:
“Don’t feed the grizzly; it’s dangerous.”
“Little Charlie from across the street tried to feed the grizzly last week and got his arm torn into a bloody mash.”
Take your pick.
Because here is the harsh blogging truth: People forget the lessons they learn online, even the ones they absolutely love. Life gets in the way. But next time your reader is standing in her kitchen, wondering about what to bake, she might remember that funny story about the dog that stole the blueberry pie… and use exactly that recipe from your cooking blog.
Finally, if you do nothing else but inform your reader with your content, you are missing out on one of the main reasons he came to you in the first place: Entertainment.
Whether they know it or not, your readers are also surfing the Internet for distraction. And if you can include stories in your blog, you’ll make reading fun. And they’ll stick around.
But you might wonder if storytelling even applies to your blog. Storytelling is for novels and movies and TV shows, right? But blogging? How does that work?
Let’s find out …
Storytelling: The Swiss Army Knife for Self-Reliant Bloggers
You may not believe it yet, but you can use storytelling for virtually any blogging topic.
Writing a post for your car maintenance blog about how to change a fan belt? Tell a story about how many years ago, your uncle’s fan belt tore while he was on his way to a date. He tried changing it and arrived covered in engine oil.
Writing about how to calculate the centroid of a trapezium on your math blog? Tell them about your excitement for mathematical formulas and how your parents found out about it by observing you drawing geometrical figures in the sandbox all day long.
No topic is too abstract for a story, once you find a way to relate it to people.
It’s great for posts that already have a kind of narrative flow: ultimate guides, “How to” posts, bonding posts, case studies, or opinion pieces.
But you can also use storytelling for posts that just contain bare lists, like a list of resource links. Just put your story in the opening or the closing of the post.
Here is the basic rule: You can tell a story in any post that includes at least a little snippet of continuous text.
And your secret weapon of storytelling isn’t just limited to posts. You can use stories to sell products or to connect with your list as well.
The following are some examples of how to do it:
- Roundup posts. Set the context with a story. If your post is about getting more followers on Facebook, tell the story of how you struggled to grow your following until you applied the advice of certain experts. You could also insert a story into the participants’ bios.
- Interviews. Frame your questions with stories. For example: “Amanda, I know in your first two months of blogging your blog saw a whopping total of 23 visitors. Today, you have ramped it up to 40,000 visitors per month. Which tools most helped you to make your blog a success?”
- Opinion pieces. Describe an experience that led you to form your opinion, and describe it in the form of a story. Look at the topic and find an association that holds a story. Make your opinion or attitude a story in itself by describing how it makes you behave.
- “Wake-up call” posts. Paint the future story of the best case and worst case scenarios: What will happen if the reader doesn’t change their behavior? What will happen if they do? Show the domino effect of good or bad events. Once you have a chronological sequence, you have a story — things are happening one after the other.
- “Cause” posts. Let’s say you decide to lead the fight against a new regulation your readers hate. Tell the story of that witty email you wrote to the bureau, starting with the hopeless quest to find the email of the right person. It’s David versus Goliath, and readers love to root for the underdog.
- About Pages. Using personal stories on your “About” page helps you appear like a real human being – not a faceless digital ghost. Also, choose stories that make you stand out, even if it’s in an awkward way. Aaron Iba, in his “About” page, simply scanned a psychological evaluation from his childhood days. It diagnoses him as a highly intelligent kid … with ADD. And it definitely makes him look very human.
- Product Reviews. Tell the story of how a time management product “saved your life” or a fertilizer killed your favorite plant. But be truthful – this is not the place for invented stories.
- Sales Pages. If you have a product or service to sell (or from your affiliates) or you can make money with, write testimonials as success stories. Let a happy customer describe how your financial coaching paid for itself in a few weeks and left them with money in their pockets at the end of every month.
- Email newsletters. Personal stories help subscribers identify with you, but writing about your grandma’s gum surgery will look odd without the relevant context, so link it to your blog topic. A photography blogger might tell the story of toppling over backwards trying to shoot a photo of the tip of the Eiffel Tower. And by the way, to achieve a pleasant contrast when shooting against a bright sky, this is what you have to do…
As you can see, bloggers can use stories just about anywhere.
But why are they so effective?
5 Ways Stories Can Supercharge Your Writing
Here are just a few of the ways stories can lend power to your writing.
1. Stories Add Clarity and Credibility
If you want to demonstrate a point, a story is ideal because it shows how your lesson played out in the real world. A story is like a testimonial for your tip.
In ancient times, when Uagh told Uggah (both conventional stone age names, I assume) how his mammoth hunting friend had broken through the ice layer never to be seen again, it wasn’t just to give Uggah the slight kick that he had outlived his friend. It also served as a testimonial, a warning of the precise spot of danger on the ice.
We trust the experience of others, that’s why testimonials work so well. And we pass our experiences on in the form of stories.
Anthony Metivier shows us how the mind can suppress memory and gives an example with a little story about his near-plane-crash-experience.
2. Stories Bond You to Your Readers
A Masai Warrior and a New York stockbroker live in totally different realities, but they both know the joys of a task well done or the fear of losing someone. The one thing they have in common are the same emotions.
If you tell your own story and share your emotions, you’ll bond the reader to you.
Sarah Peterson lays it all out about how she struggled in her relationship while becoming an entrepreneur. Sarah’s readers share the goal of leaving the 9-to-5 grind, so this is a courageous post that taps deeply into their fears and desires. It makes the reader feel understood.
In your bonding story, share your authentic feelings. Letting your most private feelings go public for the whole world to see can be scary. But these feelings are exactly what will make your story work so well.
3. Stories Provide Entertainment and Variety
People love to be entertained. So share something fun, outrageous, or surprising.
Chuck Wendig, in this example, shows off his radical and entertaining writing style. In an imaginary conversation about a figure his reader created, he writes:
The post wouldn’t have lost any information without this paragraph, but it’s fun and draws the reader in.
4. Stories Help You Win Your Reader’s Attention
The purpose of your opening is to catch the reader’s attention and draw them into your post. Stories do this naturally.
This post begins “Food changed my life,” and the phrase is strange enough to get readers curious. How could something as commonplace as food have changed the author’s life? What does he mean? Is it about losing weight? Or the hidden additives in our modern diet? Or the torturous taste of fried tarantula?
Reading on, the author talks of pushing his trolley among “soulless food” and of how he “hates food.” We all need food, so how can he possibly hate it? (And still, we might have secretly felt the same way some time after consuming too much McDonald’s food.)
Each new sentence seems to raise as many questions as it answers, and before the reader knows it, they’re drawn deeply into your post and train of thought.
So throw your reader a hook, let them bite, and reel them in on the fishing line of their own curiosity and appetite for drama.
5. Stories Inspire People to Take Action
One of the best ways to close your posts is with a call to arms – inviting your reader to act now.
So use a story to paint a vivid and inspiring future for your reader.
This Copyblogger post is about touching people with your writing. In its last paragraph, it tells the story of the future you, the heartfelt writer, affecting the lives of thousands of people with your writing:
Do that, and you won’t have to search for readers. They’ll search for you. You’ll boot up your computer one morning to find thousands upon thousands of them waiting for you, ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to launch into action.
And that’s when you’ll realize: you’re not just a writer anymore. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, you’re changing the world.
Maybe you’re like Don [Draper, from ‘Mad Men’], lying on a couch, sipping a glass of bourbon, or maybe you’re not. Either way, you gotta admit…
It’s pretty freaking cool.
Jon Morrow skillfully fires up his reader’s emotions, and boy, do you want to go out and write after reading it.
How to Find the Perfect Story for Any Situation
Having been convinced of the universal power of storytelling – even for bloggers – you might be wondering where your stories come from.
How do you find that mesmerizing story idea that will bring life to your post?
In truth, all your idea needs is the secret ingredient we’ve already mentioned: strong emotions!
Turn on the TV, open a magazine – you will always see the same forms of drama. Nothing special about it, but people are eating it up like hot fudge.
How you present is much more important than what you present. So don’t panic because you think you need to rewrite Gone with the Wind.
Whether your story covers a single phrase, a whole section, or your entire post, first you should identify the point you want to make.
Then look for a story that expresses your point as neatly as possible.
Well, just in case it doesn’t seem simple just yet, let’s look at a specific example.
Say you run a “home and garden” blog and want to write a post about buying furniture, in particular how to match colors and fabrics.
What type of stories could you use to enhance your post?
The following are a few different story types you could draw upon for your furniture post.
1. Stories Where You are the Main Character
The first option is to exploit your personal experiences. You already know that it makes for a strong connection with your reader.
In our example, if you ever worked in a store selling furniture, you should feel like you won the lottery.
Granted, that’s not very likely. But maybe you could draw a parallel with an experience you did have? What about that summer job in a clothing store you took in your teens? Clothes require careful combinations too. You could tell a story of your worst-dressed customer as an analogy for a room full of poorly coordinated furniture.
Remember, everybody, including you, has a myriad of stories to tell; most people just don’t dare to tell them publicly. Your life is an accumulation of stories. Draw from your wealth of experiences.
Societal norms have put filters into our heads. So go ahead and be the one who dares to shake people out of their fatigue by telling them something raw and authentic.
The more inner resistance you feel to telling your story, the better it is: You are involved emotionally. Transfer your emotions onto the page and the reader. He will love you for it.
2. Stories You Have Heard or Read
What did your ex-roommate once tell you about his Dad’s obsession with antique furniture? What about your cousin’s eccentric taste in pillow covers? And what did you learn from that documentary the other day about glassware?
We are constantly bombarded with an avalanche of stories from family, friends, acquaintances, and the media. Make mental notes. Use the boring small talk at the next garden party to extract interesting stories from strangers – you will also have a better time than asking how their kids are doing for the third time.
Draw upon these stories in your writing. There is a reason why you remember them; some piece of it connected with you. Find the part that got you interested in the first place, and parade it. It will also be the most interesting part for your reader.
3. Stories You Find on The Internet
One tool offers an inexhaustible supply of stories.
It’s your old friend Google. And while an unfocused Google search can be like diving down a rabbit hole, finding the right story is usually just a matter of using the right keywords.
History is an endless source of great stories. (The term even contains the word “story.”) Look how Mark Manson fills an entire 4,000-word post with countless historical mini-stories. Even the tabloid papers would have a hard time coming up with that much sex and personal drama.
For my furniture-related post, I Googled “Victorian furniture styles,” and found this Wikipedia link, which mentions how plaster was scored to look like stone and graining was used on woods to imitate higher quality. You could easily tell a story about how it was fashionable in Victorian times to fake surfaces to seem higher class.
I chose “Victorian” just as a random era to make my search more concrete — generic queries tended to produce generic results. If “Victorian” hadn’t worked, I’d have tried other eras such as “Renaissance.”
4. Stories From Your Reader’s Life
Try to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Have you been where he is now? If not, give it your best guess. Which concerns could be on his mind right now?
Whoever your reader is, if he is reading a post about how to match furniture, he quite likely is in the process of furnishing his new house or apartment. So why not begin the post like this:
Curtains here, rugs there. The couch finally fits with the cupboard, but now it doesn’t fit with the side table.
Furnishing an apartment can be a headache, especially when you are not sure how to combine all the different pieces.
And notice how most of the story is implied. The narrative isn’t explicit – this happened, then this happened – but it’s there behind the scenes. It’s implied by sentences like “The couch finally fits with the cupboard, but now it doesn’t fit with the side table.” We can imagine hours of trial and error trying to combine different items of furniture from a catalog or website.
You could also tell your reader’s story indirectly by choosing a personal story they’ll relate to. Consider who your audience is – which stories from your life will they relate to best?
If you started a blog about parenting, that might be a story about a teething baby. Readers of a tattoo blog would be more interested in the story of the first time you were “inked.”
5. Stories You Just Made Up (It’s Okay)
The point of a great story is to draw your reader in, entertain them, and leave them with a message. And a story doesn’t have to be true to achieve these goals.
So if you don’t have a story, invent one.
Of course, there are limits. Never lie about your biography (education, career, big merits), never lie about another existing person, and don’t fake events to provoke opinions. Don’t explicitly claim your invented story is true either.
For the furniture blog post, you could make up a story of someone newly rich, with almost unlimited budget, whose expensive furniture was combined so badly that house guests laughed at his lack of taste. Your message? That a beautifully furnished room is not limited by budget.
Build a Devoted Following through the Magic of Storytelling
Armed to the teeth with storytelling tools, you can now engage your readers’ emotions like never before.
Remember, you’ve told hilarious stories during family holiday dinners or when you were alone with your best friend. Telling stories on your blog is easy too.
With enormous courage and wit, she managed the unthinkable: After firing up the king’s passion night after night with her thrilling stories about wonders, love, and danger, he spared her life and made her his queen.
Scheherazade saved her own life, and thousands of others (the king’s future brides), with the mesmerizing power of storytelling.
Here is the point: We humans are raw and vulnerable. We want to see ourselves reflected in others and we want to experience truth (even if it’s not always fact) – which is why we love to immerse ourselves in the pain and the joy of a sweeping story.
Give people the stories they are so desperately longing for and they will strongly engage with your writing – as they will feel your message to the core.
You have magnificent, unbelievable stories, begging to be told.
The question is: do you have the courage to tap into your deepest emotions and share them with the world?
Because if you do, your readers will be your loyal audience forever.