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On Style: Deconstructing the Blogstory Style

Yesterday I told you how I became friends with Julie Roads by commenting at her website. It certainly didn’t hurt that I was leaving comments rich with praise for her stuff.

Actually…she appreciated that aspect of them, but it slowed me down a little. I worried, since she had so little context for my sudden appearance, that just leaving compliment after compliment on her posts, it would all come across as self-serving flattery. It wasn’t, but I worried it would seem that way.

The difference was that I didn’t just say, “Wow, this is good. Wow, you’re amazing.” (You know me — I can’t possibly keep to that few words.) Instead, the things I said were specific, and pretty early in those emails that I mentioned, she wrote me and said,

“Mostly I want to tell you how good it feels to have someone else – a fellow writer and obvious kindred spirit – get what I’m writing and connect with it.”

That part was easy, though. I got it, because she was doing exactly what I’d been trying to do over the course of three different blogs for most of a decade. And I connected with it because the writing was just that good.

The Value of Story

I’m lying to Google with that particular h3, because there’s no way I’m going to cover “the value of story” in one blog post. Trust me, that one gets its own series.

But still, the value of story is at the heart of this whole discussion. Stories are powerful communication tools. They appeal to readers, they can carry immense amounts of significance, and they persist in memory much longer than bits of factual data do.

For all those reasons (and, significantly, because I was a storyteller first), I’ve used stories from the very start at Unstressed Syllables. I like to use them as illustrations and anchor points, and whenever possible I’ll use a story from my life, all on its own, as the first part of each of my three-part series. They make fantastic introductions, drawing readers in and providing a context for the sometimes-dry lecture-style articles that follow.

Elements of a Great Blogstory

With Julie, though, the story is the lecture. And I mean that in the best possible way. Did you read the post I linked to yesterday? Or any of her new stuff? It’s amazing how much she can accomplish with one little anecdote.

She’ll be telling a story about her life, maybe 400 words total, and you’ll be all caught up in it, and then right around the point where I’d put a section heading and transition into the beginning of my real message, she’ll drop in a two-sentence punchline, and change your world.

And it’s not just a matter of personal style — every bit of that experience is deliberate craftsmanship. A great blogstory is:

  • Short (usually under 700 words) for easy digestion and ready access to the busy blog-reading crowd
  • Effective as a standalone concept, but even stronger within the serial context of its parent blog
  • Everyday, often centered on relatively casual real-life happenings, but given weight either by circumstances or (far more often) an effective application
  • Interconnected, so that it works on many levels, and reaches the many different kinds of people who might happen across the blog

Master Your Writing Style

Julie has an infuriatingly consistent ability to nail all four points, every time she posts. That’s because she doesn’t just approach the blogstory as an aspect of her writing, or as a helpful tool in the writer’s toolbox. For her, the blogstory as I’ve described it is her writing style.

You should read her blog. You don’t have to agree with my analysis — everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion — but you should invest a little time and read at least a handful of her posts to see exactly what it is I’m talking about.

Why? Because you need to do the same thing. And I don’t mean you need to write blog posts like hers. You need to find the document type and writing style that work for you, and turn yourself into an expert. That’s what Julie has done (and with her it just happened to be blogging), and that’s the best lesson she’s got to teach any of us.

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll talk a little bit more about it.

4 Responses to “On Style: Deconstructing the Blogstory Style”

  1. Dave Doolin says:

    “She’ll be telling a story about her life, maybe 400 words total, and you’ll be all caught up in it, and then right around the point where I’d put a section heading and transition into the beginning of my real message, she’ll drop in a two-sentence punchline, and change your world.”


    I sputter at this. I believe I can do it sometimes, but not reliably. My technical writing background invariably wants to push through.

    • Aaron Pogue says:

      Y’know, Dave, I don’t feel too bad about my inability to match Julie’s style, because she’s chasing something different than I am. I started this blog primarily because I got a job teaching a Tech Writing class, and whenever my friends and family asked how it was going, they invariably responded to my answer with, “Ooh, I wish I could take that class.”

      So the lectures are kind of the point for me. Your site is a lot the same way. Julie’s blog does its job in the RSS reader, every day, and ours do theirs on Google search, that one frustrated afternoon when someone needs to know how to do something right and WikiAnswers just isn’t cutting it.

      Still…Julie’s way is a lot more fun to read. I certainly envy that.

  2. I like the bullet points you gave. Very good info to remember…in case I ever start a blog.

  3. just got to reading this post, and all I can do is agree, Julie is an awesome writer. She leaves great praise as well!

    Many of her posts I read and I can’t figure out how to comment on them without sounding like a doofus.