Baby, I like your style! Identifying elements of successful writing.
Yesterday, I had a brief conversation with Pummra from Part Time Druid about content and writing. Our talk was cut-short by the fact that I had to leave work, but I've been mulling over a few details since then.
Essentially, Pummra wanted me to read his latest post, a revisiting to his earlier "Things You Need to Know About Druids" that garnered no small amount of questioning and criticism from the druid community. Pummra outlines what he's learned about the druid class since then and offers his own resto-themed tips for succeeding. In fact, I'm even mentioned in the latest version as one of the original naysayers, and while I did make a decidedly critical comment, I wouldn't go so far as to say I hated the article. Let's just say I went into the reading under the wrong impression.
What's in a name? As many bloggers know, an article title needs to encompass the general theme of your blog and your topic. This is important for multiple reasons:
- It's what will be drawing non-regular readers to your site
- It adds a predictable flavor to your blog
- It illustrates what you're writing about
- It allows search engines to index your articles by post-names if you have that option selected for how your permalinks function (otherwise, it will default to indexing your posts by numeric values, meaning it's a lot more difficult to track them).
- Interestingly, I get a few hits on my webpage because people searching for "hot nude asses" get redirected here.
So when I see a title like "Ten Things I Hate About You," I'm immediately thrown into the Letterman mindset: oh, this is going to be funny! Although the list format is used liberally by bloggers such as Matticus, I expect that from him. When I see it crop up in other places, I anticipate some sort of parody. Unless you have established yourself as following a specific writing style, it's not unreasonable to assume that your readers will draw on prior experience/pop culture to set the standard for what they read.
How do you break beyond those boundaries?
As bloggers such as BRK and BBB have mentioned, having a clear structure to your writing invites readers to easily absorb what you've written. Large walls of text that aren't broken up by white space, ordered and unordered lists, or pictures deter readers. The writing seems heavy, unorganized, and endless. Structure also implies that you know where you're going—this is what first drafts are for. While short updates don't necessitate planning ahead, any lengthy article should have a clear beginning, middle and end; paragraphs should lead logically from one into another; and each piece of the proverbial pie should contribute to the thesis. Without digressing too far into the stale realm of academia, traditional tools such as outlines or pyramids can help rein ideas in.
Once you have some sort of structured idea, write it up in your voice. Style is often used synonymously with voice, and literally means the manner in which you convey your ideas. Your approach, your panache, your thing that makes you unique and/or interesting. Some people remain deliberately formal, write in lists, string words together in a peculiar way, weave their spoken vernacular into writing, or establish a consistent tone of voice (humorous, authoritative, a founding member of the old folks convention, elitist douche, etc.) throughout all their work. Whatever style you find works for you, own it and remain true to your voice. If you have an audience, chances are they're not only coming back for content, but for you.
So you're classy. You can compose a logically structured analysis of your office's many leather bound books and write it like you're a sports commentator. Whammy! Now, does your article make any sense? Many folks mistake "conversational" with "puking words out into a garbled document." The "conversational" idea is that you want to communicate with your readers in a relaxed setting while putting them at ease—not confusing them with awkward syntax and poor grammar. Conversational usually translates into easier-to-read, which harkens back to an earlier post on Flesch-Kincaide testing. Think about it like this: how do you talk to your friends when you're having a marginally intelligent conversation? Remember that your blog isn't always talking to friends, and upgrade the language half a notch.
Maybe you are talking to friends, and disseminating information isn't the primary focus of your blog. Let's be honest here; do you read every single blog that chronicles a raider's experiences through Karazhan? Which ones do you read and why? I'm going to make a blanket assumption that you're going back for more because you appreciate the writer's layout and personality, not because you want to know everything in the world about an early-BC instance that's almost two years old. But what else piques your curiosity? I like learning, and I enjoy reading different interpretations of classes, skills, talents, and raid roles—it's part of why I blog.
Taking that first step into the realm of assertions and/or theorycrafting requires knowledge. While everyone is entitled to a mistake or two (I know that I've certainly made a few), glaring misunderstandings about the class you play will alienate your readers. Just because you're not raiding in Sunwell doesn't mean you can't put in the time and effort to maximize your performance at your own level—there are plenty of resources out there for fact-checking. Ultimately, if you're unsure of what you're writing, don't post it, ask a fellow blogger to proof it, or at least add a general disclaimer citing speculation.
Do I need to follow all of that bullshit you outlined?
Well, no. As someone who writes for a living, I'm just outlining components of writing I feel to be successful, and what I look for when I'm skimming other blogs. I love unique voices and eloquent sentence structuring, and beyond that, I enjoy learning about the various niches of druids and other classes. The more knowledge you gather about the way other classes function can only enhance the way you play yours.