The narrative leap from bullet points

May 3, 2009

Molly Martin and I took our blog-and-pony show on the road recently with two goals and a bonus:

  • To show writing classes and business groups how writing for the web differs from other writing
  • To show creative non-fiction classes the places for good narrative on the web
  • And the bonus: Helping our many former journalist friends stay relevant as teachers

Molly is one of my business partners at First and Union.com.  The first time we spoke to a writing class together was in 1993. Back then we talked about writing in narrative form, using our then-recent story of coming to blows while exploring boxing as a new fitness craze for women.

Now that we’ve converted to web writers, we are ever mindful that most readers scan pages quickly, using headlines, bolded phrases and bullet points to find what they need to click deeper. We talked about the why and how people scan:

And that how, as writers, we had to accept the differences or get out of the kitchen, which leads me to more bullet points. Among the ways we adapt is to:

  • Get to the core point quickly
  • Try to get people to take action by understanding what they want to do and what we want them to do

But longer-form writing also has its place when users get ready to settle down and read. Adding narrative to bios or company histories adds depth and understanding. Compelling and useful content presented in story form brings existing users back and encourages new users who are drawn to links.

For examples, we pointed to one of our sites Tales of the Farm and to this nicely narrated blog entry on Google’s very deliberate process of adding or subtracting a single word on their home page.

Active writer friends point to another bonus: Online magazine editors today find not only story ideas they’d like to expand by trolling favorite blogs, but also the writer − a built-in benefit for both.

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