Friday, August 19, 2016

What novelists can teach business content writers

It’s no secret to those who know me that I’ve struggled with finishing my novel Deemed Responsible. In the spring, I was lucky to come across help in the form of a writing guru named Jeff Lyons.

Lyons asked me to spend time considering whether the main character is grappling with some flaw - better if it is one that is hurting other people or themselves. Without it, the work may be about a situation and a main character who has problem to be solved but not a compelling story. The idea is borrowed from the story arc used by novelists and intricately related to the main character's growth arc. To make it really interesting, the more challenge the better. Think of Al Pacino in the movie The Godfather who started off as the good kid and military hero outside the shenanigans of the family but as the beats of the story play on, he is changed into a version of the Godfather himself. Perhaps, not the outcome we would hope for, but his internal story alone makes the movie one of the most compelling of all time.

When I'm not fiction writing, I work on commercial websites always searching for a solution to building traffic for business content. It struck me how there’s a link between the novelist's craft of telling a good story and writing good content for the web.

Our brains are hardwired to respond to stories. Not only does it make a brand or product more interesting, but it is more believable as well. Everybody knows a marketer of their product is biased. However, when a product is wrapped in a story with a main character, we are admitting to this bias in a way that lets everyone relax, grab their popcorn and get into the story we are telling.

Where content strategists call for taking time to look at a target audience and developing an editorial plan based on whatever path those customers are on, someone like Lyons would call for taking time to use the tools of storytelling to develop an outline for a story based on the main character's growth arc because of the product.

Lyons gives a nod every writer's passion, that burning sensation that the idea I have "could even become a book!", but that passion needs to be funneled into effective, proven storytelling. According to Lyons, this passion “ too 'charged' to be functional in its raw form. 

He says passion "---needs to be down stepped either by a writer's natural talent for story, acting as that transformer, or through the use of a physical tool that can turn that power into usable information.”

The tool he suggests, one with a long history of use in various forms, is called the premise line and is the method he teaches. Used correctly, the exercise keeps the writer's story on track.

You can find more about Jeff Lyons and his tool box on Amazon.