Growing up, there was always a battle in my life: school vs. cartoons. School taught me to be structured—the elements of good writing, the processes to follow, the fundamentals. Cartoons taught me to be creative—to think outside the box (thank you Wile E. Coyote), to be creative, and to strive for the eye-bulging, jaw-dropping outcome.
On weekends, cartoons always won out. But Paula Pant, a blogger, journalist and entrepreneur, believes the lessons of cartoons should always triumph. The title of her NMX session, The Art of Crafting Jaw-Dropping Content: Why You Should Forget Everything You Learned in School proves that.
Crafting creative, memorable content that motivates readers to share is the goal of almost every digital marketing agency. Each has it’s own approaches, methods, and beliefs. Regardless, Pant believes that you should “kill your darlings, murder your adverbs, and embrace active tense” through stories, the power of thirds, and your own natural pacing.
But how? Here are a few tips to help writers like you and me create that eye-bulging, jaw-dropping result we all strive for:
Be Simple & Tight with Your Writing
In school we’re taught to take a sentence that could be said in 5 words and stretch it out to 15. We are taught to cloud our writing and to make simple things complicated. Forget it. Be direct. Be simple. Ask yourself how to express your thought in the simplest language possible. And never unnecessarily complicate a sentence.
We’ve all listened to someone tell a story and wished they’d just get to their point. Don’t write your blog like that. Write tightly by cutting any extraneous information. Long blog posts are fine, as long as that post is as concise as possible. Cut out any sentences that don’t push your reader forward.
- Watch for repetitive verb forms. When you see two similar parts of speech together, try to eliminate one. For example “rather than trying to draw the blueprints” can become “rather than drawing the blueprints”. If you can’t eliminate one of the two, group them together. “Buy the medicine and distribute it” becomes “buy and distribute the medicine”.
- Start with a subject. It will help your reader know what you’re talking about right away.
- Start with a present tense active verb—especially in lists. They add power right up front in your post and they force you to economize.
Model Your Writing After a Sandwich (Not a Fairytale, Inverted Pyramid, or an Hourglass)
Traditional stories and fairytales follow a format that looks a big like a hill or a bell—they start out slow, climax somewhere in the middle or towards the end, and slow down again. Journalists tend to write in inverted pyramids giving the most newsworthy information first and going down from there. Others write like an hourglass—starting off with the inverted pyramid but adding a twist in the middle to get readers to stick around until the end of the piece.
But Pant’s favorite structure is the sandwich. You begin with a face or an anecdote (the bread). Then, progress to the meat of the story—the facts, the details, the data, the research, the tips—the things you want your readers to know. Then, you’ll close out with the face. This structure allows you to emotionally connect with your audience, helps get your point across, and gives them a reason to read your entire piece of content.
Every story needs to have rhythm. It isn’t just for poetry or for music, it happens in a blog post as well. The best way to include it is to mimic the natural ebb and flow of how people speak. How?
- Alternate long sentences with shorter ones. When we talk, we pause to take a breath. Give your readers time to take a breath—take a sentence.
- Embrace the hyphen. Adding a dash in the middle of a sentence isn’t necessarily grammatically correct all the time, but it reflects the way we talk. Your job as a blogger is to bring pixels to life and add character to those pixels.
- Rhyme. Would you remember “an apple a day decreases the risk of coronary failure”? Nope. But you remember “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it’s memorable.
- Alliteration sets up a pattern and is easy to do. Create one in your headlines, in your titles, anywhere in your content to help make it a bit more memorable and create rhythm.
- Use onomatopoeia. Write out how something sounds—“Zing” “Woop woop!” or “Briiiiiiing”. It catches attention, shortens sentences and is much more interesting to read. Make your content audible.
Verbs move your story; they sell your story; they’re powerful. But they have an enemy. Adverbs. Adverbs enable us to get away with using weak verbs. For example, “he shut the door forcefully”. Shut is a weak, overused verb. But “he slammed the door” is much more powerful. Pant advises replacing your adverbs with a powerful, killer verb.
But you don’t have to all the time. Occasionally, they’re ok to leave in. For example, “he ran faster and fell” being changed to “he ran and fell” conveys two different things. In this instance, the adverb is justified. Imagine you’re a publisher paying $2 a word. If it’s worth the $2, it can stay. If not, delete it.
Spice Up Your Adjectives
Adjectives like great, wonderful, and fantastic are overused. Try to use ones that aren’t. Create cognitive dissonance. Mouthwatering is usually used in regards to food. Use it in a new context—talk about mouthwatering content, or mouthwatering shoes you saw—something to become more memorable.
Personally, I like to read for fun. I love books that bring you into a different world. I get so wrapped up in the story that I lose track of time, I’ll laugh out loud, or get so emotionally connected I can’t put the book down even though it’s really late. Pant offered a few key tips to help us write like those books:
• Add pops of expression. Example: “they’re announcing layoffs on Friday. Yikes!”
• Add teasers and suspense. Example “but that’s not all”. The reader can’t leave—they’ll want to know what’s next.
• Write in visual metaphors. Example: “teach yourself to read in small sips as well as long swallows” instead of “teach yourself to read in minutes as well as hours”.
Creating jaw-dropping, interesting content doesn’t have to be hard work. It should be a creative, fun process and should appeal to your readers. Think of things you find interesting in a conversation and try to include those in your writing to resonate with your readers.
How do you convey a voice in your writing without creating nauseatingly-long content?