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. Without it, the work may be about a situation and a main character who has problems to be solved but not a moving story.

When I'm not fiction writing, I work on commercial websites always searching for a solution to building traffic and came across no less of a guru but in the area of 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.

Kristina Halverson who wrote the often quoted Content Strategy for the Web asks: “But who among us is asking the scary, important questions about content, such as “What’s the point?” or “Who cares?” Who’s talking about the time-intensive, complicated, messy content development process?” (See

Where she and other 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, Lyons calls for taking time to reign in fiction by outlining our story based on the main character's growth arc.

Without it, Halverson asks: “Do you think it’s a coincidence, then, that web content is, for the most part, crap?”

Lyons gives a nod to the writer's passion, that burning sensation that the idea I have could be a book, but it needs to be funneled. According to Lyons, this passion “ too 'charged' to be functional in its raw form. 

"It 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. For those wrestling with content development for commercial and non-profit websites, Halverson's organization hosts annual conferences, where content writers can learn to become better strategists - see ConFab Events for more.