One of the challenging things as a blogger is figuring out how to balance the documentarian nature of a blog – chronicling things that have happened to you – with the desire to tell good stories and to be interesting. There aren’t clear cut answers but here are some tips.
Editing your experience:
You know how sitcoms never have people go to the bathroom? It’s like that. We don’t need to see all the messy and/or boring parts of your life. It’s not dishonest to hide those things if they are universal and mundane. For example, if you travel, there are often entire days dedicated to getting to the destination. There is absolutely no need to recount the entire journey. Just skip it. The exception is of course if something unusual happens – and you want to tell that story.
What kinds of things can you cull from your blog posts:
The lead up…
When it comes to telling a story, it’s all about the action. Exposition is not action, by the way. If you’re trying to switch from a documentarian style to more story-telling, one quick way to check yourself is to run through your post and eliminate all the leading up narration. The closer you can cut to the action the better. For example:
“Paragraph 1: I was thinking about taking a trip around Mexico for years. You see, Mexico has always held a certain fascination for me… (250 more words about my curiosity about Mexico).
Paragraph 2: Anyway, the trip itself was fine, we took a flight straight down to Mexico City (blah, blah, blah)
Paragraph 3: The first day we recovered (when does this story start!!)
Paragraph 4: (story really starts here >>) When I stepped in the market, the aroma of cardamom and chocolate hit me at full force. I ditched my companions and zig-zagged my way through the narrow aisles and past stalls to find the source. It was a Zapatec woman, around 110 – or so it would seem – set in the back of the market place, stirring a large pot of chocolate con cardamomo. I took a seat on a plastic stool at her feet and ordered a large cup. She presented it to me with a smirk and I simply muttered “gracias” before falling face first into the deliciousness.”
How would I edit this? Well I would lead with a single sentence that sums up what you expected from Mexico and what you found. For example: My first trip to Mexico was years-in-the-making and filled with expectation – but I never imagined how hard I would fall for this place and the incredible people, food and culture.
Then I would CUT out paragraph 1, 2, 3 and start with 4.
Finding the story thread
Most of storytelling is really about clever editing. It is the absence of unimportant details that make the story come together. It’s important to find your story thread and edit around it. For example, in my story about Mexico, I might have decided I wanted to tell the story about how much I freaking loved my Mexico trip, specifically the food, people and culture. I would think about specific moments that represented that feeling and choose the best or more interesting examples. Then as I’m telling the story of my travels, I write about it in chronological order, but I trim out things that don’t support my main point.
Often the structure of the story will unfold naturally but if you’re trying to keep things very tight, I stick to a simple formula for telling a quick anecdote.
Paragraph 1: The Hypothesis
Paragraph 2: Supporting Anecdote 1
Paragraph 3: Supporting Anecdote 2
Paragraph 4: Supporting Anecdote 3
Paragraph 5: Conclusion and tying it all together (end with a bon mot!)
The more you edit out extraneous details the more PUNCH your writing has.
Remember this forever: STORYTELLING IS EDITING
If you’re not sure how to create a story idea, it might be that you should consider your story before you go out into the world and do stuff. I often pre-load my story by thinking about the blog posts I’d like to write. I know I will love the food in Mexico, and I will write a post about it. So I’m going to make sure I go try a bunch of food that I can write about. I might take notes.
This doesn’t always work, though does it? In some situations, we can’t nudge the story along, because life comes at us fast. For example, having a baby isn’t going to fit in some neat narrative arc. In those situations, I think about the truth of the moment. The core feeling I want to express. I consider what the one, true thing is that I can say about the experience. And I find that thread reflected in moments and tell those bits that help develop that theme better.
And remember, we don’t always have to tell storytelling style posts! We can write how-to or more documentarian update posts that just bring the reader up to speed. I like to switch it up so it stays fresh. If it’s not working in one format, try a different one. If you can’t find something to say about Mexico, write “how to travel Mexico”. You know? There are other options.