Image provided by Diamond Lake Improvement Association

Image provided by Diamond Lake Improvement Association

As a kid, I spent some time growing up in northeastern Minnesota. Being surrounded by the wilderness, beautiful lakes, and mountains, as well as travelling with my parents through the North Shore All-American Scenic Drive to catch the grand sights of Lake Superior changed my life. Living there is probably why I have such a great interest in being outdoors and connecting with nature as an adult. It’s also why I had the most unimaginable, terrifying childhood experience that will never escape me. I had one of those commutes to school people usually associate with their aged parents… you know, uphill both ways in a foot of snow… no really, I did. In about the fifth grade my parents started letting me walk to school by myself. It wasn’t too far, after all. One day I was walking to school – it was a cold, wintery morning – and I heard a faint sound of something moving slowly through the nearby woods up ahead. Thinking nothing of it, I trudged on, not wanting to be late to school. I had taken only a few more steps and what walked out of the woods stopped me in my tracks. I looked up to see a giant moose staring down at me. Now, I was pretty small for a fifth grader, but to this day I remember thinking its antlers were the length of our station wagon. I was shaking with fear. For a moment I couldn’t move. However, nothing was going to get between me and making it to school (I was a bit of a nerd, then, too). I began to devise a plan for action and slowly inched around the moose to be on my way. When I was about half-way around him, he leaned his head down and dipped one of his antlers through a strap on my brand new Lisa Frank backpack. All of a sudden I was dangling in the air, and the scream that came out of me at that point could have put any horror movie to shame. I couldn’t fight him, so I decided to run for it. I straightened out my arms, which was a difficult task because of my puffy red coat, and I wiggled myself free. As soon as I hit the snowy ground, I ran as fast as I could to school and never looked back. That frightening experience is always what comes to mind when I think about my childhood. My parents still don’t believe me when I tell them that’s how I lost my backpack. Sometimes I think about that moose and wonder if he was ever able to get it untangled from his antlers.

SM WordleCrazy, right?! Well, I have a confession. I never lived in Minnesota, and I never came face-to-face with backpack-stealing moose. (But if you want to learn more about the amazing northeastern Minnesota area I described, click here.) Still, it was a pretty good story, right? Something my professor said in class this week really resonated with me: blogging is storytelling. I had never thought of it like that before. I think of myself as a pretty good writer, but am I a storyteller? I decided to begin my post today by trying it out. Maybe you’re wondering why I chose that story to be the first thing you read, different tools or tips I used to write it, or even how in the world I made that up. I’ll spend the rest of our time today answering those questions. As a blogger, the key to keeping people invested in your content is being more than a writer – you have to be a storyteller, too. If you need more of a visual, think of your favorite book… Mine is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Now imagine if the author took out everything that made the book engaging. All of the suspense, the use of description that made you feel like you were there walking through the pages, the parts that gave you chills – gone. That’s the difference between writing and storytelling. Santiago’s journey just wouldn’t have been the same without the magic Coelho infused through powerful storytelling. According to an article titled “Be a Storyteller: How to Write Great Blogs,” “writing is a very tricky business… It involves walking the fine line between fact and storytelling.” Well said. Now, let’s talk about how that translates in the world of blogging.

Your goal as a blogger should be to take readers to a different place. When you write, it should be engaging and powerful; it should keep readers on the edge of their seats and wanting to know more. Rewind to the moose story… Do you notice how the story builds, how there is detail that allows you to imagine it like you are there, and how you couldn’t wait to read what was next? That’s what storytelling in your blogs should be like. Please don’t mistake this for me saying you should always write about a dangerous experience or a wild childhood adventure; you don’t have to do that to be engaging. Here are some tips you can follow to take your blog to the next storytelling level.

1. There should be a beginning, middle, and end. We learn that pretty early on, right? I remember it from elementary school (my real one, not the scary-snowy-moose one), but sometimes we grow out of rudimentary concepts and become comfortable with not using them. To blog successfully, it’s back to the basics on this one. If you want to tell an engaging story, it has to be complete. Give your readers the whole picture.

2. Use your personal voice. Tiny pieces of your personality should slip out in your storytelling efforts. It’s natural, and it gives readers the ability to get to know you through your writing. You may be thinking you can’t do that because you blog in a professional setting or on behalf of your organization – WRONG! If your personal voice is missing, readers will know it. You can exert professionalism and still be genuine. Your goal should be to find that balance. Don’t know what your voice is? Jeff Goins may be able to help.

3. Make your readers care. Engage your readers. Set the stage so they want to know what’s next and keep coming back for more. While this tip really encompasses all of the others in this list, it’s really important, so it gets its own section. If people don’t care about your blog, they won’t come back. It’s that simple. As a storyteller, you need to know your readers. Remember that diversity is growing and social media delivers your message to all types of people. Because your words will reach so far, they have to be able to relate to a lot of people. Find out who your current readers are and define your target audience. Then cater your storytelling to reach them. Check out BlogKori’s post on “10 Tips on how to engage your readers” for some more information.

4. Try to pull in various sources of media. What makes you click on a link or navigate to a new page better than an awesome picture or a video that looks interesting to you? The use of media is becoming increasingly important in blogging and can completely change how your content is perceived. Jeff Bullas does a really nice job explaining how our culture is shifting to become more visual. Think of all the things that media does to your blog: makes it look more attractive, breaks up pieces of content so it’s easier to read, gives the reader a picture to go along with your story… It’s a pretty big deal. Try it out.

5. Encourage interaction and dialogue with your readers. Ask questions! More than wanting people to read your blog, you should want to build a relationship with your readers so they keep coming back. Fostering a connection and dialogue between your readers and with yourself can greatly enhance your efforts. Tell them you want their opinion. Allow a space so they can comment and share. Incorporate their thoughts in your posts. Make them invested in what you write. Having an active audience will make you want to be a better storyteller.

It may take some practice to become a good storyteller. It is a learning process. Hopefully the tips I’ve provided will allow you to begin your own journey of transforming your blog into a space for creativity, engagement, and sharing. If you are interested in learning more about blogging and storytelling, look into BlogWorld’s series called “18 Brilliant Bloggers Talk About Storytelling” to read some very cool stuff. And, of course, don’t let your kids walk to school alone in northeastern Minnesota.