What's Your Content's "Plot"?
"Readers don't like reading about perfect heroes who have all their sh*t together." — Jessica Brody
Think about your favorite novel, play, or even the latest blockbuster movie. What do they all have in common? Story.
But what makes a good story? Naturally you have to have at least one main character you care about. But characters alone do not make a story.
A good story also needs a plot. But the term plot is a bit misleading. Plot typically refers to a series of events that happen in a story. However, that could even describe a series of random events unconnected to one another. More important that just events is the order, or sequence, of those events. That is the true plot.
A great story will take your main character and go through a very specific sequence that forces them to change. They face various obstacles and challenges along the way that helps them grow. In other words, they've got problems. Big ones.
A writing professor of mine once commented that the best way to create a great story is to get your character into trouble facing impossible odds and then watch them try to figure a way out of it.
Are You a Plotter or Pantser?
In creative writing circles, it is often debated as to which method of writing is best.
A “plotter” is a writer that has to outline every tiny nuance of a story before they begin actually writing.
A “panster” is more of a freewilled, seat-of-the-pants writer — hence the name — that prefers to just sit down with a blank page and go.
The truth is that neither of these methods are better or worse than the other. They’re just different. In the end, we all get to the end goal, which is to create a great story.
The “F” Word
Don’t worry, I’m not going all gutter-talk on you. The F word that I am speaking about is Formula. It’s a very important word, because depending on what your writing style is, you may have a different reaction to it.
Plotters generally don’t mind formulas too much because, of course, this keeps them on track.
But if you are a pantser, you might be thinking to yourself, “No way.” Stick with me, though, I’ve got something coming up later just for you… :-)
Your Story DNA
Why is story structure so important?
There is just something inside each of us that responds to stories told in a certain order. Even before writing was invented, and we were all swapping stories around a campfire in a cave somewhere, stories still followed a set formula.
Countless books have been writing on the idea. I’m mentioned before Chris Vogler’s Writer’s Journey. Another great one is Robert McKee's Story. Others worth checking out are Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and John Truby’s Anatomy of Story to name but a few.
What each of these (and others) describe is essentially a blueprint that great stories all follow. First this happens, then that happens, and so on. This blueprint acts as a type of backbone or skeletal structure that holds everything together.
It varies as to how many actual plot points, often called “beats”, there are. For example, Snyder said there are 15 beats and Trudy said 22. But one thing they all agree on is that the patterns are there.
Now, you might be thinking, “This is all interesting stuff, AJ, but what does that have to do with me?” I’m glad you asked.
The fact is that the content you are creating for your site also needs these story elements if you want capture and hold your reader’s attention.
Who is the main character of your article? Here’s a hint; if you want to draw the reader in, then he or she should be the protagonist. In other words, it’s okay to use “I” sparingly in your writing to make a point, but the real lfocus should be on the “you”, as in helping the reader put themselves into your “story”.
What about the “plot” of your article? Read any great blog article. You’ll quickly notice they all tend to follow a formula, or what I am referring to as plot.
You start with the title. This should be intriguing, designed to make then want to read your content in the first place.
Next you create what is called in journalism the “lead”. This is your initial sentence or two that let’s the reader in on what the article is about. It’s also where you establish the problem you are proposing to solve.
At this point, like all great stories, you next have the main body, which generally reaffirms the character (reader) and the problem.
You take them through various subplots, often including mini-stories of other people who have encountered similar challenges, as well as your different header sections. Naturally this section will be larger or smaller depending on what the point of the article is.
Finally, just like the climax of a great story, you close with the solution (which naturally should be the affiliate link you’re promoting.)
At the end of most great stories there is a final part called the denouement. This is the post-climax part where all the loose ends are tied up in a nice neat bow. The bad guy is dead or in jail. All things outstanding are resolved, or at least explained, and your main character is changed for the better and lives happily ever after.
Your content can include a denouement as well. For instance, you can either wrap things up with a final conclusion section, or even with a P.S. if the denouement is short enough. Show your reader how they can live happily ever after.
True to form, let’s wrap up.
When creating your content, it’s important to know where you want to go. What’s your article about? Who is it written for? What’s the main point you are trying to convey? What’s the reader’s main problem or challenge? And, most importantly, what solution are you offering to overcome that challenge?
By following a plot-like structure each time you write, you will produce content much faster, as well as content that truly connects with your audience.
Keep writing :-)
P.S. Oh, I almost forgot the pantsers breaking out in a cold sweat over the use of a formula. No worries; here’s the trick…
I have coined the term “planter” for people like us. A planter is a combination of plotter and pantser. They way it works is you establish your plot points like road markers so you know where you’re heading with each section. You’re in essence planting seeds along the path. Then, from section to section, you free-write to your heart’s content in true pantser fashion.
This is the method I have found that works best for me, as I am a long-time pantser, but also often found myself lost. With the markers in place, I better know how to go from point A to point B without sacrificing my creativity. If you, too, are a pantser, give it a shot; you might just find you like it.
Please share in the comments your favorite method of writing content.