A “Cheat Sheet” For Writing Blog Posts That Go Viral

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The Blogger’s Guide to Telling Stories That Win Hearts and Minds

The Blogger’s Guide to Telling Stories That Win Hearts and Minds

Have you ever wondered if people even care about your writing?

You pour out your heart and soul, but sometimes that feels like shouting your words down a bottomless abyss.

You know you have a world of knowledge to pass on – but you have no idea how to wrap it into an exciting package your readers will love.

Could it be that … your writing just isn’t engaging enough?

After all, if even famous writers like Hemingway or Steinbeck took many, many years to excel in their craft, how are you supposed to instantly produce a moving masterpiece out of thin air?

You just feel overwhelmed.

And when the time comes to crank out another post, that huge blank space with the relentlessly blinking cursor … frankly, it’s terrifying. Because you fear the response to your efforts will be radio silence … once again.

Luckily, you have a fool-proof technique at your disposal that is guaranteed to make your readers long for every word you write.

And it’s been around forever.

The Incredible Power of Stories to Win Hearts and Minds

As humans, words are perhaps our most powerful tools. Words have crushed souls and built empires. So let me tell you a little story about the true power of words.

It’s the story of Scheherazade, a young girl in ancient Persia, who was facing execution, scheduled for the next morning.

Curiously, she had brought herself into her situation on purpose. She had agreed to marry the king.

The king’s first wife cheated on him, and he felt so angry and bitter that he decided to make sure it never happened again: by bedding a new virgin wife every night and having her decapitated the next morning.

But Scheherazade wasn’t just stunningly beautiful; she was also extraordinarily smart. She had a plan to snap the king out of his bloodthirsty frenzy. Every night, she would tell him one of the most bewitching, mesmerizing stories he had ever heard and interrupt it right at its peak, promising to continue the next night.

And every night, the king spared her life for just one more day.

But for how long could she continue this dangerous game?

You’ll have to wait to find out. But first, let’s take a look at the powerful trick Scheherazade employed.

Why a 30,000-Year-Old Trick Still Works Today

As long as humans have existed, we have been hardwired to satisfy one urge. (No, it’s not what you think.) I’m talking about storytelling.

Some 30,000 years ago, when our ancestors carved the thrilling tale of their last mammoth hunt into rock walls, their scraggly-haired friends must have consumed these stories eagerly.

That’s because the need for stories is rooted deeply inside our brains.

It’s the reason you love watching movies or TV. The reason you exchange your latest personal adventures over a cup of coffee. The reason we tell bedtime stories to our kids and the reason you can’t help but check your Facebook page for updates from friends.

We’re addicted to stories because we get the thrill of a new experience without risking pain or hardship ourselves. And they’re a form of communication. We live and relive events through stories.

And our brains process stories differently. Stories engage a deeper part of our brains than any logical explanation ever could — it’s the emotional part, the “Ugh-I-once-felt-that-too” part. And we connect at a much deeper level than information delivered in the abstract.

Author David Mamet famously stated, “The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama.”

When you think about it, that’s exactly the reason we read the entertainment, sports, even politics section of the news.

Humans crave drama – so feed it to them like candy!

But how does this apply to you as a blogger?

How to Avoid Drowning in a Sea of Forgettable Bloggers

As stories connect so deeply with our emotions, content that uses storytelling is also more memorable than bare facts alone.

In fact, stories are 22 times more memorable than bare facts.

Pack any bit of information you want to pass on to your reader into a story, and it will stay with him. Stories mean emotion, and emotion means deeply engraving the lesson into your reader’s brain.

Here is a demonstration. Which advice would you have listened to more closely as a kid:

“Don’t feed the grizzly; it’s dangerous.”

or

“Little Charlie from across the street tried to feed the grizzly last week and got his arm torn into a bloody mash.”

Take your pick.

Because here is the harsh blogging truth: People forget the lessons they learn online, even the ones they absolutely love. Life gets in the way. But next time your reader is standing in her kitchen, wondering about what to bake, she might remember that funny story about the dog that stole the blueberry pie… and use exactly that recipe from your cooking blog.

Finally, if you do nothing else but inform your reader with your content, you are missing out on one of the main reasons he came to you in the first place: Entertainment.

Whether they know it or not, your readers are also surfing the Internet for distraction. And if you can include stories in your blog, you’ll make reading fun. And they’ll stick around.

But you might wonder if storytelling even applies to your blog. Storytelling is for novels and movies and TV shows, right? But blogging? How does that work?

Let’s find out …

Storytelling: The Swiss Army Knife for Self-Reliant Bloggers

You may not believe it yet, but you can use storytelling for virtually any blogging topic.

Writing a post for your car maintenance blog about how to change a fan belt? Tell a story about how many years ago, your uncle’s fan belt tore while he was on his way to a date. He tried changing it and arrived covered in engine oil.

Writing about how to calculate the centroid of a trapezium on your math blog? Tell them about your excitement for mathematical formulas and how your parents found out about it by observing you drawing geometrical figures in the sandbox all day long.

No topic is too abstract for a story, once you find a way to relate it to people.

It’s great for posts that already have a kind of narrative flow: ultimate guides, “How to” posts, bonding posts, case studies, or opinion pieces.

But you can also use storytelling for posts that just contain bare lists, like a list of resource links. Just put your story in the opening or the closing of the post.

Here is the basic rule: You can tell a story in any post that includes at least a little snippet of continuous text.

And your secret weapon of storytelling isn’t just limited to posts. You can use stories to sell products or to connect with your list as well.

The following are some examples of how to do it:

  • Roundup posts. Set the context with a story. If your post is about getting more followers on Facebook, tell the story of how you struggled to grow your following until you applied the advice of certain experts. You could also insert a story into the participants’ bios.
  • Interviews. Frame your questions with stories. For example: “Amanda, I know in your first two months of blogging your blog saw a whopping total of 23 visitors. Today, you have ramped it up to 40,000 visitors per month. Which tools most helped you to make your blog a success?”
  • Opinion pieces. Describe an experience that led you to form your opinion, and describe it in the form of a story. Look at the topic and find an association that holds a story. Make your opinion or attitude a story in itself by describing how it makes you behave.
  • “Wake-up call” posts. Paint the future story of the best case and worst case scenarios: What will happen if the reader doesn’t change their behavior? What will happen if they do? Show the domino effect of good or bad events. Once you have a chronological sequence, you have a story — things are happening one after the other.
  • “Cause” posts. Let’s say you decide to lead the fight against a new regulation your readers hate. Tell the story of that witty email you wrote to the bureau, starting with the hopeless quest to find the email of the right person. It’s David versus Goliath, and readers love to root for the underdog.
  • About Pages. Using personal stories on your “About” page helps you appear like a real human being – not a faceless digital ghost. Also, choose stories that make you stand out, even if it’s in an awkward way. Aaron Iba, in his “About” page, simply scanned a psychological evaluation from his childhood days. It diagnoses him as a highly intelligent kid … with ADD. And it definitely makes him look very human.
  • Product Reviews. Tell the story of how a time management product “saved your life” or a fertilizer killed your favorite plant. But be truthful – this is not the place for invented stories.
  • Sales Pages. If you have a product or service to sell, write testimonials as success stories. Let a happy customer describe how your financial coaching paid for itself in a few weeks and left them with money in their pockets at the end of every month.
  • Email newsletters. Personal stories help subscribers identify with you, but writing about your grandma’s gum surgery will look odd without the relevant context, so link it to your blog topic. A photography blogger might tell the story of toppling over backwards trying to shoot a photo of the tip of the Eiffel Tower. And by the way, to achieve a pleasant contrast when shooting against a bright sky, this is what you have to do…

As you can see, bloggers can use stories just about anywhere.

But why are they so effective?

5 Ways Stories Can Supercharge Your Writing

Here are just a few of the ways stories can lend power to your writing.

1. Stories Add Clarity and Credibility

If you want to demonstrate a point, a story is ideal because it shows how your lesson played out in the real world. A story is like a testimonial for your tip.

In ancient times, when Uagh told Uggah (both conventional stone age names, I assume) how his mammoth hunting friend had broken through the ice layer never to be seen again, it wasn’t just to give Uggah the slight kick that he had outlived his friend. It also served as a testimonial, a warning of the precise spot of danger on the ice.

We trust the experience of others, that’s why testimonials work so well. And we pass our experiences on in the form of stories.

Anthony Metivier shows us how the mind can suppress memory and gives an example with a little story about his near-plane-crash-experience.

2. Stories Bond You to Your Readers

A Masai Warrior and a New York stockbroker live in totally different realities, but they both know the joys of a task well done or the fear of losing someone. The one thing they have in common are the same emotions.

If you tell your own story and share your emotions, you’ll bond the reader to you.

Sarah Peterson lays it all out about how she struggled in her relationship while becoming an entrepreneur. Sarah’s readers share the goal of leaving the 9-to-5 grind, so this is a courageous post that taps deeply into their fears and desires. It makes the reader feel understood.

In your bonding story, share your authentic feelings. Letting your most private feelings go public for the whole world to see can be scary. But these feelings are exactly what will make your story work so well.

3. Stories Provide Entertainment and Variety

People love to be entertained. So share something fun, outrageous, or surprising.

Chuck Wendig, in this example, shows off his radical and entertaining writing style. In an imaginary conversation about a figure his reader created, he writes:

When I talk to you about your character, and you start to tell me, “Well, she has to find the DONGLE OF MAGIC to fight the WIZARD OF BADNESS and then she tames HORBERT THE MANY-HEADED DRAGON,” I immediately start to cross my eyes. I emit drool. I have a small seizure and then fall into a torpid grief-coma. Grief over what you’ve done to the human condition.

The post wouldn’t have lost any information without this paragraph, but it’s fun and draws the reader in.

4. Stories Help You Win Your Reader’s Attention

The purpose of your opening is to catch the reader’s attention and draw them into your post. Stories do this naturally.

This post begins “Food changed my life,” and the phrase is strange enough to get readers curious. How could something as commonplace as food have changed the author’s life? What does he mean? Is it about losing weight? Or the hidden additives in our modern diet? Or the torturous taste of fried tarantula?

Reading on, the author talks of pushing his trolley among “soulless food” and of how he “hates food.” We all need food, so how can he possibly hate it? (And still, we might have secretly felt the same way some time after consuming too much McDonald’s food.)

Each new sentence seems to raise as many questions as it answers, and before the reader knows it, they’re drawn deeply into your post and train of thought.

So throw your reader a hook, let them bite, and reel them in on the fishing line of their own curiosity and appetite for drama.

5. Stories Inspire People to Take Action

One of the best ways to close your posts is with a call to arms – inviting your reader to act now.

So use a story to paint a vivid and inspiring future for your reader.

This Copyblogger post is about touching people with your writing. In its last paragraph, it tells the story of the future you, the heartfelt writer, affecting the lives of thousands of people with your writing:

Give them a reason to laugh. Give them a reason to cheer. Give them a reason to keep fighting, even when they feel like all hope is lost.

Do that, and you won’t have to search for readers. They’ll search for you. You’ll boot up your computer one morning to find thousands upon thousands of them waiting for you, ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to launch into action.

And that’s when you’ll realize: you’re not just a writer anymore. Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, you’re changing the world.

Maybe you’re like Don [Draper, from ‘Mad Men’], lying on a couch, sipping a glass of bourbon, or maybe you’re not. Either way, you gotta admit…

It’s pretty freaking cool.

Jon Morrow skillfully fires up his reader’s emotions, and boy, do you want to go out and write after reading it.

How to Find the Perfect Story for Any Situation

Having been convinced of the universal power of storytelling – even for bloggers – you might be wondering where your stories come from.

How do you find that mesmerizing story idea that will bring life to your post?

In truth, all your idea needs is the secret ingredient we’ve already mentioned: strong emotions!

Turn on the TV, open a magazine – you will always see the same forms of drama. Nothing special about it, but people are eating it up like hot fudge.

How you present is much more important than what you present. So don’t panic because you think you need to rewrite Gone with the Wind.

Whether your story covers a single phrase, a whole section, or your entire post, first you should identify the point you want to make.

Then look for a story that expresses your point as neatly as possible.

Simple, right?

Well, just in case it doesn’t seem simple just yet, let’s look at a specific example.

Say you run a “home and garden” blog and want to write a post about buying furniture, in particular how to match colors and fabrics.

What type of stories could you use to enhance your post?

The following are a few different story types you could draw upon for your furniture post.

1. Stories Where You are the Main Character

The first option is to exploit your personal experiences. You already know that it makes for a strong connection with your reader.

In our example, if you ever worked in a store selling furniture, you should feel like you won the lottery.

Granted, that’s not very likely. But maybe you could draw a parallel with an experience you did have? What about that summer job in a clothing store you took in your teens? Clothes require careful combinations too. You could tell a story of your worst-dressed customer as an analogy for a room full of poorly coordinated furniture.

Remember, everybody, including you, has a myriad of stories to tell; most people just don’t dare to tell them publicly. Your life is an accumulation of stories. Draw from your wealth of experiences.

Societal norms have put filters into our heads. So go ahead and be the one who dares to shake people out of their fatigue by telling them something raw and authentic.

The more inner resistance you feel to telling your story, the better it is: You are involved emotionally. Transfer your emotions onto the page and the reader. He will love you for it.

2. Stories You Have Heard or Read

What did your ex-roommate once tell you about his Dad’s obsession with antique furniture? What about your cousin’s eccentric taste in pillow covers? And what did you learn from that documentary the other day about glassware?

We are constantly bombarded with an avalanche of stories from family, friends, acquaintances, and the media. Make mental notes. Use the boring small talk at the next garden party to extract interesting stories from strangers – you will also have a better time than asking how their kids are doing for the third time.

Draw upon these stories in your writing. There is a reason why you remember them; some piece of it connected with you. Find the part that got you interested in the first place, and parade it. It will also be the most interesting part for your reader.

3. Stories You Find on The Internet

One tool offers an inexhaustible supply of stories.

It’s your old friend Google. And while an unfocused Google search can be like diving down a rabbit hole, finding the right story is usually just a matter of using the right keywords.

History is an endless source of great stories. (The term even contains the word “story.”) Look how Mark Manson fills an entire 4,000-word post with countless historical mini-stories. Even the tabloid papers would have a hard time coming up with that much sex and personal drama.

For my furniture-related post, I Googled “Victorian furniture styles,” and found this Wikipedia link, which mentions how plaster was scored to look like stone and graining was used on woods to imitate higher quality. You could easily tell a story about how it was fashionable in Victorian times to fake surfaces to seem higher class.

I chose “Victorian” just as a random era to make my search more concrete — generic queries tended to produce generic results. If “Victorian” hadn’t worked, I’d have tried other eras such as “Renaissance.”

4. Stories From Your Reader’s Life

Try to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Have you been where he is now? If not, give it your best guess. Which concerns could be on his mind right now?

Whoever your reader is, if he is reading a post about how to match furniture, he quite likely is in the process of furnishing his new house or apartment. So why not begin the post like this:

Is all of the planning and combining starting to annoy you?

Curtains here, rugs there. The couch finally fits with the cupboard, but now it doesn’t fit with the side table.

Furnishing an apartment can be a headache, especially when you are not sure how to combine all the different pieces.

And notice how most of the story is implied. The narrative isn’t explicit – this happened, then this happened – but it’s there behind the scenes. It’s implied by sentences like “The couch finally fits with the cupboard, but now it doesn’t fit with the side table.” We can imagine hours of trial and error trying to combine different items of furniture from a catalog or website.

You could also tell your reader’s story indirectly by choosing a personal story they’ll relate to. Consider who your audience is – which stories from your life will they relate to best?

For a parenting blog, that might be a story about a teething baby. Readers of a tattoo blog would be more interested in the story of the first time you were “inked.”

5. Stories You Just Made Up (It’s Okay)

The point of a great story is to draw your reader in, entertain them, and leave them with a message. And a story doesn’t have to be true to achieve these goals.

So if you don’t have a story, invent one.

Of course, there are limits. Never lie about your biography (education, career, big merits), never lie about another existing person, and don’t fake events to provoke opinions. Don’t explicitly claim your invented story is true either.

For the furniture blog post, you could make up a story of someone newly rich, with almost unlimited budget, whose expensive furniture was combined so badly that house guests laughed at his lack of taste. Your message? That a beautifully furnished room is not limited by budget.

Build a Devoted Following through the Magic of Storytelling

Armed to the teeth with storytelling tools, you can now engage your readers’ emotions like never before.

Remember, you’ve told hilarious stories during family holiday dinners or when you were alone with your best friend. Telling stories on your blog is easy too.

And Scheherazade?

With enormous courage and wit, she managed the unthinkable: After firing up the king’s passion night after night with her thrilling stories about wonders, love, and danger, he spared her life and made her his queen.

Scheherazade saved her own life, and thousands of others (the king’s future brides), with the mesmerizing power of storytelling.

Here is the point: We humans are raw and vulnerable. We want to see ourselves reflected in others and we want to experience truth (even if it’s not always fact) – which is why we love to immerse ourselves in the pain and the joy of a sweeping story.

Give people the stories they are so desperately longing for and they will strongly engage with your writing – as they will feel your message to the core.

You have magnificent, unbelievable stories, begging to be told.

The question is: do you have the courage to tap into your deepest emotions and share them with the world?

Because if you do, your readers will be your loyal audience forever.

About the Author: Alex Limberg is the founder of Ride the Pen, a creative writing blog dissecting famous authors (works, not bodies). Make your story great with his free e-book (download here) about 44 Key Questions to test your story. The blog also offers creative writing prompts. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

93 Comments

  1. Kevin Duncan
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 10:38:51

    Hi Alex,

    Welcome to Boost Blog Traffic! I know how exciting it is to get something published on here, so kudos! 😀

    Ah, stories. I love stories. As I recently wrote:

    “Stories are powerful. They can establish a point. They can make a topic more relatable. They can allow the reader to make a personal connection with the post and the person writing it. A good story can inspire, enthrall, and captivate a reader. It can compel them to fight dragons, swim oceans, and climb mountains. Less dangerously, they can compel readers to tweet, comment, and subscribe.”

    In other words… I’m a big fan of stories. 🙂

    And it’s a great topic to write about here on BBT because Jon, as you pointed out, is a masterful storyteller. Glen, too!

    Love your 5 tips for supercharging your writing using stories. These should come in handy for those of us who need extra incentive to bring out our inner Jon Morrow!

    I’ll definitely be tweeting this shortly! Hope you have a great day.

    -Kevin

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 10:48:54

      Hey Kevin,

      good to see you here! I have been kind of following your path with your guest posts on BBT.

      You summarized my post very well. 😉 Let’s bring out our inner Jon Morrow, he he.

      Have a great day as well!

  2. Jimmy Por
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 10:49:28

    Im surely going to use these tips to improve my writing skills. Think its gonna take me a while before ill be good at it i think haha.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:01:17

      Hi Jimmy,
      Like with any skill, it takes time and practice to get good at storytelling. But if you just keep on practicing, it’s inevitable you will get good. Trust the process! 🙂

      • Jimmy POR
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:14:55

        Hi Alex,

        Thank you for responding to my comment. Your totally right! Anyway, thank you for this piece of great information.

      • Alex Limberg
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:35:44

        Glad it helped!

      • Amit kumar singh
        Aug 03, 2015 @ 14:43:11

        Thanks for sharing alex 🙂
        very useful information

  3. Andrew M. Warner
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 10:51:31

    Hey Alex,

    Powerful post here.

    I enjoyed that story with Scheherazade too. Just that line, “You’ll have to wait to find out. But first, let’s take a look at the powerful trick Scheherazade employed.” made me want to read through to figure out what happened.

    Masterfully done.

    It just goes to show you how powerful storytelling is … and if done right, you can captivate anyone.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve started a swipe file of various stories I find online, in newspapers, etc. — however — I’ve yet to use any of them.

    Mainly because I don’t necessarily know how to incorporate them into the post. But, after reading this post and seeing how you used that story of Scheherazade to tell a story, I now have ideas of how to go about it.

    I’m not sure I personally would try #5 – stories I made up. Because there’s a vast amount of stories all over, with good research, anyone can find a story to suit the point they’re trying to get across. What do you think?

    – Andrew

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:15:43

      Hi Andrew,
      Many thanks! Swipe file…that’s clever.

      In regards to making up stories, you make a good point. I would say it depends on the personality type. To me, making up stories comes easily, but say somebody is a very down-to-earth person with a technical blog, then it will probably be easier for him to look for stories that already exist.

      You have a systematic approach to storytelling; would you say you are very much a hands-on person?

      • Andrew
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:31:26

        Hey Alex

        Makes sense. My approach?

        I need to get back to more storytelling and writing content that’s more emotional and touches on emotions and makes readers want to read more.

        I “practice” writing all the time and read posts on storytelling. .but it’s easier said than done.

      • Alex Limberg
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:36:38

        All the best for your blog and your projects, Andrew.

    • Heather Sanders
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:07:42

      Andrew – I thought the exact thing about the Scheherazade teaser. My next thought, “Well played, Alex. Well played, indeed.”

  4. Jake Mcspirit
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 10:52:53

    Hey Alex,
    Incredibly informative post. Very worthy of being on BBT!
    I was actually just wondering why my posts had been lackluster lately. I’ve been writing pure information articles for a client, and couldn’t seem to get back to that ‘engaging’ feel I once had with my writing.
    Now I remember. Stories! Very timely post, it’s going to come in very handy for me.
    Thanks,
    Jake.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:21:11

      Sounds awesome, Jake! That’s how life sometimes goes. You need something, and suddenly it’s in front of you. Glad I could help.

  5. Clement Lim
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:13:18

    Hey Alex

    I love your ideas on how to use creative storytelling to engage readers. I completely agree that stories can hit the emotional buttons in a way that other content cannot.

    I wrote about the power of stories in a recent blog post.

    I’m a big fan of the three act story structure:

    Setup. Introduce the characters and the setting.
    Conflict. Describe the challenge faced by the characters.
    Resolution. Describe how the characters overcome the challenge.

    As used by storytellers through the ages from Aristotle to George Lucas

    It’s a simple but effective way for us content marketers to use stories in our copy without having to be Fyodor Dostoevesky.

    Thanks

    Clement

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:37:37

      That’s a good reminder. You don’t need 200 pages to go through the entire 3-act structure either; it can be done within one sentence:

      Lauren was peacefully watering her plants, when that impertinent kid ran all over her tulip bed and she had to yell to chase him away.

      Contains a little setup (the overall situation and a mini-characterization with “peacefully” and “impertinent”), the conflict (running over the tulip bed, yelling) and the resolution (kid takes his heels).

      The most important part of any story is conflict. Add some conflict of any kind (inner, outer…) and you can’t go wrong.

  6. Anthony
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:16:08

    Hi Alex

    Thank you for this very powerful description of why story is important and how to use it successfully. I’ve often tried to use story to entertain, and I appreciate the reminder about the impact of authenticity.
    I think story is always enhanced when the writers relate how they were changed or moved; it makes any story more vivid.

    Ant

  7. Amandah
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:49:14

    Alex,

    This is one of my favorite posts. It’s in my Evernote!

    I’ve been explaining to my clients and potential clients the importance of storytelling. As a writer, I find myself writing the introduction and conclusion first. I go back and write the middle. But, I have written articles and blog posts from beginning to end.

    What’s helped me strengthen my writing and storytelling is Jon’s redesigned Guest Blogging Certification course. I’ve applied the techniques (finished the course) and have paid close attention to the opening and closing. I’ve noticed the difference when compared to my previous openings and closings and so have my clients.

    Thanks again for an insightful post! Write on…

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:10:05

      Thanks so much, Amandah.

      Jon’s signature post style with “Empathy Opening” and “Motivational Closing” has a lot to do with storytelling indeed. You must have applied what you learned very skillfully, that’s great!

      I’m not in the Guest Blogging Course, but I’m in Jon’s “Serious Bloggers Only” course and can massively recommend it. In it, he recently posted an entire mini-course about his openings and closings.

      • Amandah
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:30:20

        I was a member of Serious Bloggers Only but had to cancel my membership because of other commitments. I too recommend it. Great information and community. 🙂

  8. Mary
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:51:41

    Great stories, Alex! 🙂

    While reading through all your examples of how stories can be used for blogging, it occurred to me that any blog post I have ever read that captivated me always used some form of story. Posts without stories are bland and dry, like reading a textbook.

    Mary

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:22:30

      Thanks, Mary! 😉

      When you mention textbooks, it reminds me of university, where I had the driest and most lifeless books EVER in my hands. They had very complicated sentence structures too and used tons of foreign words. It was almost impossible to understand a phrase with just reading it once.

      I’m not sure if it’s the same everywhere in the world, but I guess so. So please everybody, grab your textbooks from college and university and let them show you how to NOT teach people…

      • Mary
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:27:59

        Bahahaha! I heartily agree. Unfortunately, it’s just getting worse… with the new Common Core State Standards for Elementary-High, more classic novels are being scratched off the reading lists in favor of dry textbook reading. But that’s a whole other topic… lol

  9. Alex Limberg
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:55:13

    Yes, when the writer relates a lesson to himself, people also get a piece of first-person-drama, so to speak… that spices things up. And of course, readers get a chance to identify with the writer.

    In the end, all of us humans have the same awkward problems. It just depends on which point we are at in the journey of our lives and which mission we are on. Us writers have writer’s block from time to time and sometimes we fart. So why not say it publicly? Thanks, Ant.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 11:57:00

      This comment was in reply to Anthony above.

  10. Angela Anderson
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:59:32

    Wow! Kudos to you Alex, and to Glen (assuming he had some role in publishing this stellar post). I was so inspired by the first few paragraphs that I immediately pulled out pen and paper to write the intro to a post I’ve been working on that I had been unable to wrap my head around. You just solved my problem. Thank you!

    I’ve bookmarked this, will share it, and know without a doubt that I’ll return to it again and again.

    Oh, and as for Jon’s courses, they all rock–just like him and the rest of his team!

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:14:41

      “Wow” to you as well, Angela, it’s soooo awesome to hear that the post inspired you to take action. That’s the biggest compliment possible. Keep on going with the momentum and creative energy you have!

      And yes, Glen definitely had a major role in crafting this post and it was great to work with him.

  11. Theodore Nwangene
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:13:56

    What a wonderful piece Alex,
    Please don’t keep us hanging, you have to finish that Scheherazade story, I’m keen to know what happened at last :).

    Indeed, story can move mountains. I remember when I was a kid, I use to gather with other kids in my neighborhood and we will be telling ourselves stories one after the other and man, it use to be very fun. I miss those good old days.

    Incorporating good stories in your posts just like you did here can really wow your readers and leave them crying for more. That’s why i don’t play with anything written by John Morrow because he’s a master story teller.

    Now, let’s continue telling good and interesting stories man 🙂

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:33:03

      You just told me a nice, nostalgic story about telling stories as a kid. Well done! 😉

      I’m sure almost everybody reading this thinks (conciously or subconciously) of some piece of his own earlier life, e.g. some time in his life or some group of friends.

      You can find the end of the Scheherazade story in the post, below the last subhead.

      It’s the famous story of “One Thousand and One Nights” that already fascinated me as a kid. It’s a very old story, but as packed with sex and crime as they come…

      • Theodore Nwangene
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 16:38:42

        Thanks Alex,
        I will go check it again, maybe i missed it the first time. You’re a damn good writer man, keep it up (y).

      • Alex Limberg
        Jul 31, 2015 @ 07:15:04

        That’s nice, thanks! 😉

  12. Heather Davis
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:22:50

    What a great article! Like the other comments above, I was hooked by your opening story, and in that instance, I knew the information was going to be helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, ideas and experience!

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:34:37

      Thank you for your kind words, Heather.

  13. Mara
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:46:15

    Thanks for another great post!

  14. gigi wolf
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 13:58:20

    A ‘Dongle of Magic?’ Is this like a bissel of salt? Oy vay. Whatever it is, I want some.

    Just finished William Zinsser’s ‘Writing About Your Life’, and what made it a good read were his personal stories, interspersed with instructions on writing a memoir.

    I decided to incorporate this in my non-fiction book about work. I’d written a sort-of memoir about my work life, and didn’t like it. I’d written many blog posts about work, and have taken them down in favor of not educating anyone on my blog. I’m combining them, and introducing each chapter of the work book with a personal story. I’m liking it.

    Thanks for the timely validation!

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 14:27:03

      I don’t know what that dongle is, but it must be… pretty magical.

      Sounds like you are just defining your own genre, some sort of private public workplay non-fiction book with stories. 🙂

      Sounds great to me, I’m always for breaking up any old structures and introducing new ideas of content and form. You are using the full force of stories for your non-fiction, that’s smart.

      I have heard that Zinsser’s book “On Writing Well” is great. Unfortunately, he passed away recently.

      • gigi wolf
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:16:40

        That one is waiting for me on the hold shelf at the library!

      • Heather Sanders
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:45:34

        “I don’t know what that dongle is, but it must be… pretty magical.” – I’m dying over here. Too funny.

  15. Cathy Goodwin
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 14:05:55

    Terrific article1 i’ve written about storytelling myself and you’ve given me some new ideas I haven’t seen anywhere else. For instance, it had never occurred to me to create a story around an epic post – that’s a great idea (and probably a lot harder than it sounds).

    I like the idea of first person stories but you have to be careful not to share TMI, and for some services it’s just not appropriate. I suspect many people don’t want to know too much about their lawyer, CPA or contractor. Also there seems to be a backlash about all those “rags to riches” stories, some of which are fake. (How many marketing gurus were sleeping on a mattress in a church basement till they happened on the strategy they’re about to sell you? Or maxed out their credit cards?)

    I love the idea of finding stories on the Internet and using them to make a point. It’s fun to get something new or presented in a new context.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 14:55:04

      Storytelling is definitely not appropriate for all websites, but then again, lawyers and CPAs are not “bloggers,” as Boost Blog Traffic is using the term. Professions that require an official certification, a suit and a serious, legitimate demeanor are a whole different cup of tea. We are bloggers, we do what we want..! 😉

      You are also mentioning the “dark side” of using stories, so to speak… unfortunately, any good technique can and will be abused.

      Finally, that playfulness you are talking about is an important part of creativity; it’s fun to fool around with story elements. Yippeeee!

      Thanks, Cathy!

  16. Katharine Di Cerbo
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 14:11:42

    Hi Alex,

    I absolutely loved this post, and it was also so apropos for me. I am trying to dig deep to come up an engaging marketing story, and all of your points gave me good ideas.

    I am a really awful story teller – I typically do the opposite of what Scheherazade did and give away the punchline right away. Then I wonder why people lose interest as I try to go on fleshing out the details 🙂

    Thanks again, I will be coming back to this for reference multiple times I’m sure.
    ~Katharine

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:04:46

      For Scheherazade, it would not have been healthy to give the punchline right away! 🙂

      Actually, that’s a good mini-story you are telling us. And good to hear my post helps.

  17. Philipp Alexander
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:02:08

    Hey Alex,

    wow, I haven’t seen so much solid information in one article for a long time. You just reminded me that my writing is far too dry and technical. I will try to implement some of your ideas in the future.

    Philipp Alexander

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:14:28

      You can get away from the technical writing by implementing a bit of emotion and conflict. In one word: Drama!

      Rock on, Philipp!

      • Philipp Alexander
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:28:10

        Thx, I would love to consult you in that matter. Hope that’s ok?

      • Alex Limberg
        Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:40:43

        Go ahead! 🙂

  18. Leanne Regalla
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:06:05

    Excellent post, Alex.

    You’ve reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to do forever, which is to start journaling stories so I have material to pull from whenever I need it. Time to pull out the notebook and put it on my nightstand. 😉

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:35:12

      The nightstand is actually a great place to keep your notebook ready (personally, I prefer pen and paper).

      Sometimes, the best ideas come before falling asleep or right after waking up (or the old classic, in the shower). 😉

      • Leanne Regalla
        Jul 31, 2015 @ 14:00:12

        Yeah, not much we can do about those shower ideas except hope we don’t forget them until we’re partly-dried off. 🙂

        But as to pen and paper and nightstand – agreed!

  19. Ryan
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:45:24

    First of all – Great article, loved the way you integrated the story of Scheherazade.

    A lot of the pieces I write tend to end up as tutorials / guides – where a lot of information is presented in quick succession to the readers. Do you have any tips to integrate story telling aspects into these type of posts?

    ~Cheers

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 18:38:00

      First, if you have a more personal style (if your person is more “visible” to your readers/listeners), try to relate the topic to yourself in some way. Look above under the subhead “Storytelling: The Swiss Army Knife for Self-Reliant Bloggers” for how to do that. Search in the wealth of your own experiences.

      Secondly, try to find an association; in other words: What does that particular part of your topic remind you of? Something you have heard of? Something you have read?

      If absolutely nothing comes to your mind, go and look for stories actively, e.g. on the internet (see setion “How to find the perfect story for any situation”).

      As you start to implement stories, it will become easier and easier. You will think less technically and more narrative. Just try it!

      Hope that helps.

  20. Andrea Hewett
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 15:47:24

    Alex,

    Phenomenal post, full of interesting tidbits and relative story examples that I wanted to click on and read immediately! Well done! I feel I have less and less time lately but I definitely find the time when I start reading a “story” that I just can’t put down!

    I definitely agree with you about the strength of story-telling. The blog posts where I get the most engagement are always those that have a bit of my own personal experiences (like the time I got a flat tire and it made me realize that I can’t do everything myself…which I correlated with the importance of outsourcing certain tasks to professionals) or when I have written a post to pinpoint a problem and solution for one particular person.

    I love that you not only included real-life examples to make the post more identifiable to the reader, but that you also backed it up with the science behind the reasoning. There was so much to devour, I figuratively gained 5 pounds (not to be confused with the last cruise I took, where I literally gained 5 pounds!)

    Anyway, thank you for the comprehensive list of how to do use stories to your advantage in every type of post…this was pure gold, and I intend to share!

    Sincerely,

    Andrea

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 17:47:27

      Awesome, Andrea! So much praise, I’m blushing like a tomato.

      Seems like you have used stories very skillfully already and experienced the power of storytelling first-hand.

      What surprises me a little is how many commenters mention the Scheherazade story. But I guess I should be the last one to be surprised, because I just spent 4000 words preaching that lesson…

      The five pounds of wisdom gained are well invested! Thanks for your comment.

  21. Jenna Dalton
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 16:36:17

    Great post, Alex! And – like a lot of other people already said – well done on actually using what you teach with the Scheherazade story 🙂

    I gotta be honest. I’ve thought about keeping a swipe file of stories to use in blog posts for a while now. I just never actually did it. So thank you! This post gave me the push I needed to actually make it happen.

    I think my major problem is that I don’t always have the right story on hand to pump up a post I’m crafting. But if I keep a swipe file of unique, thought-provoking, funny, or other kind of experiences that happen to me handy, I’ll have an easier time picking a story that fits.

    Thank you for the great ideas on what stories to use, and how to tell them. And for the motivation to bring more stories into my posts. I have a feeling I’ll draw on your ideas for months to come (and share it with other people who could use an infusion of storytelling in their writing!)

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 17:58:49

      The swipe file is a great idea, especially if stories don’t come to you naturally.

      With a swipe file, you won’t have to stop your writing flow to think about a story. You select the story from your file before you start, and it becomes one flawless process and piece.

      I wish you and your friends and relatives many stories so you can draw from them for a long time… Oh, and they better be pleasant. But maybe not too pleasant – it wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it? 😉

  22. Bruce Harpham
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 17:12:18

    Alex,

    I absolutely agree with this point: “Interviews. Frame your questions with stories. ”

    Interviews are one of the keys behind several of the top notch podcasts that I like. For a great example of stories (depth of the stories do vary), I like the “tell me about a failure moment in your business” that are covered in each episode of the “Entrepreneur on Fire” podcast.

    Curious to know – what are some career bloggers (or authors) that you think are following the storytelling path well?

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 30, 2015 @ 18:26:52

      Hi Bruce,
      Yes, when successful people tell about moments of failure and how nothing worked at a certain moment – those stories draw people in magnetically, I love them too.

      The successful person becomes much more accessible, the listener/reader has the feeling of “He is just human too, I have experienced the same problems, so that means I can be successful as well!”

      If normal stories are candy, this is heroin…

      Great storytellers to me are Boost Blog Traffic founder Jon Morrow; here is one of his best posts that’s very moving:

      http://www.copyblogger.com/fight-for-your-ideas/

      Originally, I wanted to include that post in my post above, but there was no space left.

      Mark Manson is a great storyteller, I linked to him in the section “Stories you find on the internet.” Here is his blog: http://markmanson.net/

      John Yeoman comes to my mind as well: http://www.writers-village.org/writing-award-blog.php

      And, of course, myself (shameless plug): http://www.ridethepen.com/

      Hope that helps!

  23. Christopher Jan
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 21:04:28

    Alex,
    Awesome post on one of my favourite topics to study. It earned a link in my saved Favourites bar under – ‘Story’ -.

    I appreciated how you gave examples to drive home each lesson. I’m finishing up a Coaching Program that will be launching in the very near future and will definitely refer back to this post for tips to engage and inspire my readers.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 31, 2015 @ 06:46:31

      Great to hear you will be engaging your clients with storytelling. It will help to motivate them even more.

      All the best for your launch!

  24. Krithika
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 21:33:42

    *In AWE*

    Thank you penning this comprehensive storytelling guide and also linking us to some fascinating articles that reaffirm the power of naked emotions 🙂

    Thanks again, Alex #HUGS
    Kitto

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 31, 2015 @ 06:53:29

      That’s sweet of you, Kitto.

      Very cool you could get something out of the post. All the best for your blog!

  25. Waqar Ahmed
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 23:59:12

    Stories are what people want to hear.. And I have to be good at telling them.. Hmm..

  26. Bryan Colins
    Jul 31, 2015 @ 06:04:09

    Great post Alex. It’s full of practical advice for writers and bloggers of all types.

    Have you read Story by Robert McKee?

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 31, 2015 @ 07:11:06

      I haven’t read it, but I heard of him when I went to film school.

      Thanks, Bryan.

  27. venkatesh khajjidoni
    Jul 31, 2015 @ 08:07:43

    Hey Alex,
    Storytelling is a powerful method to get a large number of readers. Even in blogging, it is very powerful.
    If we don’t learn the art of storytelling, we become nameless ghost in blogosphere.
    Thank you very much Alex for this eyeopening post of storytelling.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 31, 2015 @ 20:54:48

      Hi Venkatesh,
      Yes, As humans, we are basically just following our emotions, and that’s what storytelling takes advantage of.

      Mostly, people make decisions by following their emotions and after that they attach rational reasons. They use these rational reasons to convince themselves they have made the right decisions.

      Humans follow their emotions – and that’s good for us storytellers! 🙂

  28. David Gillaspie
    Jul 31, 2015 @ 15:30:44

    Thanks for this post, Alex. Your challenge on the way out rings so true, “The question is: do you have the courage to tap into your deepest emotions and share them with the world?”

    It matches the idea of, “the most personally embarrassing thing you can think of is what your readers want to know.”

    That’s work worth doing.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 31, 2015 @ 20:58:22

      Absolutely, and it’s not an easy task to do. But once you realize that everybody faces very similar problems and fears in their lives, sharing them becomes much easier. Life experience helps.

      Good luck for your own storytelling, David!

  29. Rajkaran Singh
    Jul 31, 2015 @ 15:58:37

    Hi Alex,
    Very very useful tips. This will help me to improve my writing. Thanks.

    • Alex Limberg
      Jul 31, 2015 @ 21:01:40

      That’s great to hear. Make sure to put the tips to good use and your posts will attract more readers. All the best!

  30. Daniel Rose
    Aug 01, 2015 @ 17:43:41

    Hi Alex,
    Great post! I wrote fiction before I wrote blog posts, but this has been a real eye opener. I had no idea stories could apply to virtually every type of post. I’ll certainly have it in mind when I write my next post.
    If I may, would you recommend using story in every relevant post? Or is it possible to overdo it?
    I’ll be sharing this with my peeps, and I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 01, 2015 @ 18:32:18

      Hi Daniel,
      A little bit of story can’t hurt in any post. That doesn’t mean you need a full-blown plot with five characters.

      Even a tiny narrative snippet is enough – something like “I’m hungry and would love to go down to Dunkin’ Donuts right now to get me something tasty; here are a couple of secret recipes for delicious frostings…”

      Done.

      With a glimpse of a narrative like that, you can’t go wrong for any blog post.

      You wrote fiction before you wrote posts, that’s ideal. Seems like storytelling comes easy to you. Good luck!

      • Daniel Rose
        Aug 01, 2015 @ 18:37:26

        Thanks for your response Alex,
        That makes a lot of sense, I can see this really helping take my blogging to the next level. Cheers!

  31. Teri Lissy
    Aug 01, 2015 @ 18:13:41

    Good day, Jon –
    I just wanted to say I think you’re doing a great job with your blog. I’m new to blogging and I’m still figuring things out. If you have any tips, advice, feedback or input I would love to read it. My post is MS/ART@paintinggodslight.com. I have Multiple Sclerosis and use art as therapy. Endless thanks for your time! Teri

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 02, 2015 @ 09:30:52

      Hi Teri,
      I’m not sure whether Jon reads the comments or not. In any case,with a blog the size of Boost Blog Traffic, he is extremely busy .

      You should try the contact form. No guarantees your message will get through to him, but at least you will reach somebody competent from his team.

    • Leanne Regalla
      Aug 02, 2015 @ 11:56:45

      Teri, I’m emailing you!

      Leanne

  32. Jason
    Aug 02, 2015 @ 14:27:08

    Telling your story is always great idea to engage with your readers and i know many of popular bloggers who are using this technique very effectively.
    It always takes time be expert in this technique.

    This post really helped me to learn something new.

    Thanks for sharing this useful article with us.

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 02, 2015 @ 17:22:06

      Yes, it takes a bit of time to become excellent. Then again, one doesn’t have to be a master to apply this stuff – just remember the most important ingredient (emotion!) and you can’t go wrong!

      Glad it helped you.

  33. Maria Stenvinkel
    Aug 04, 2015 @ 07:16:05

    Wow, awesome blog post!! I’ve even bookmarked it for the future 😉

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 04, 2015 @ 11:16:10

      Bookmark away, Maria! I love the photo on your landing page.

  34. Amanda
    Aug 05, 2015 @ 00:37:44

    I agree completely with this post. Storytelling is that way to go to capture hearts of readers. They really connect to stories. Even ecommerce sites use storytelling on the product pages and about us pages.

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 05, 2015 @ 09:13:57

      Good point. Telling stories for products and brands is a similar topic as storytelling for bloggers. There was just not enough space in the post to look into that theme, as a post for BBT has to focus on bloggers.

      But there is an enormous amount of material out there about how to tell stories for brands.

  35. solanki kajal
    Aug 07, 2015 @ 23:23:40

    Incredibly informative post. Very worthy of being on BBT!
    I was actually just wondering why my posts had been lackluster lately. I’ve been writing pure information articles for a client, and couldn’t seem to get back to that ‘engaging’ feel I once had with my writing.
    Now I remember. Stories! Very timely post, it’s going to come in very handy for me.
    Thanks,
    Alex ,

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 08, 2015 @ 09:06:07

      That’s great to hear. Stories will give your pure information articles that extra kick they need.

      Keep on rocking it!

  36. Sandy Naimou
    Aug 14, 2015 @ 10:15:21

    When I lost my 9-day-old son in 2010, I started blogging as an outlet for my emotional expression and healing. I avoided sharing the blog with my own circle of friends and allowed only my sister and her husband to read the blog just so they knew I was okay. Now, I teach yoga and finally just started blogging again, but because I’m blogging to eventually grow my business on a professional level, all of my blog ideas have been missing the raw emotion that drove me to teach yoga. For that reason, I have criticized all of my ideas and have only posted once.

    Thank you, Thank you, for giving me the courage to allow myself the chance to reach others through stories that invoke strong emotions. I’m not talking about telling my story of loss (although eventually I will since that’s the main story with the most “inner resistance”), but to bring the drama of life into my posts so that not only the reader can connect, but I can connect and feel proud of what I write. I tried convincing myself that people only want information and how-to’s… but I was (gladly) proven wrong.

    Of all the posts I’ve read so far on blogging and writing, I have to say this is my favorite yet. THANK YOU.

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 16, 2015 @ 19:09:32

      Hi Sandy,
      I’m really sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your story.

      “Drama of life,” I like that.

      In the end, we all have to decide for ourselves how many personal details we share publicly.

      But life is drama and so our readers need to hear drama. And sometimes telling it can serve us, the writers, as well; it can have a therapeutic effect.

      It’s fantastic to hear that my post touched something in you and you are ready to take an emotional risk – a risk, that in the end isn’t really a risk, because what do you have to lose? The biggest misses are the lost opportunities.

      So glad to hear you are on your path and all the best for your blog!

  37. Sharon McElwee
    Aug 14, 2015 @ 14:11:48

    Hi Alex,

    Definitely the most comprehensive post I’ve read on storytelling so far. I really enjoyed learning about the right stories for any situation.

    Sharon

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 16, 2015 @ 19:13:12

      Awesome, Sharon!

      Play around with the different options a little bit, it’s really simple. Good luck!

  38. Alexey
    Aug 28, 2015 @ 20:44:48

    Hello,

    Than you for sharing such valuable information! This article goes into bookmarks! Very useful tips! Thank you again!

    • Alex Limberg
      Aug 28, 2015 @ 20:56:21

      Hi Alexey,
      Great to hear the post could help. I wish you good storytelling!