Heather writes her first draft with growing despair.
But she grits her teeth, finishes writing down her best time saving tips, and then goes out for a walk. She can revise and edit her draft later.
Even the sunshine can’t drive away her sense of failure—that nasty feeling her blog post sucks so much that even her best revision efforts won’t rescue it. It’s too dull.
Has she lost her writing mojo?
Heather feels writing has become a chore. She feels uninspired. She writes similar posts with tips every week. Almost on auto-pilot. She’s afraid her readers might sense her boredom. Her negativity might seep through her words.
Where has the fun gone? And how can she find her spark back?
Heather wants to try something new.
Three weeks ago, I almost allowed myself to despair at my draft
I had written a tutorial on taglines.
But I had to admit: Despite great quotes and good examples, this post was rather drab.
What could I do?
My brain didn’t feel like dreaming up a metaphor about taglines. So, I decided to turn my post into a narrative essay.
The phrase narrative essay may conjure up nightmarish feelings of awfully boring schoolwork. But essays don’t have to be dull. My essay on taglines engaged readers and received a whopping 98 comments.
So what’s a narrative essay? And how can you use this format to engage business readers?
A narrative essay is a gripping story in three acts:
- In the opening, set out your personal problem; hook readers with drama
- In the main body, explain how you solved the problem and advise readers how they could solve a similar problem
- In the final paragraph, your story reaches its climax and you encourage readers to implement your advice
A narrative essay usually discusses a personal journey, your quest for the truth, or a story of how you defeated a problem.
Shall I explain?
Step 1. Find the drama
How does a thriller hook readers from the first page?
A good thriller plunges the reader smack-bang in the middle of a story. A body is found. A fight is happening. As a reader, you want to know what’s happening next. The drama and action are instantly there.
You may think we don’t have that type of drama in business writing. And to some extent that’s true. This is not about life and death, but about the small dramas of business life.
Imagine my post about taglines. Where’s the drama in taglines?
I initially thought the drama was in finding the right tagline. But that’s still kind of boring. The real drama was in my personal struggle: the traditional marketer in me said I needed a cute tagline, but the pragmatist in me wanted to get rid of the tagline and declutter the page:
But recently, I’ve wondered whether crafting taglines is a waste of time for small businesses.
Could I simply delete my tagline?
The traditionally schooled marketer in me shivered. No tagline? How could my business thrive without a punchy tagline? The idea seemed crazy at first.
Each business problem contains drama. The drama is the tension between where we are and where we want to be; between what is and what could be. It’s about a conflict or human struggle. Sharing the story of this struggle makes a dull topic more fascinating.
Sharing your struggle, however, isn’t always easy. You have to be brave enough to admit your own doubts. But admitting your doubts is a powerful way to bond with your readers as they recognize the same tension in their own lives.
Step 2. Share your lessons
In a thriller, readers plunge straight into the action from page one, and the backstory follows later when readers get to know the hero, his mission, his past, his strengths and his flaws.
The main purpose of your essay is not to tell your story, but to make a key point. You take readers through your arguments, so they come to the same conclusion as you, and feel inspired to act.
So, in the main part of your essay, set out your argument by answering these questions:
- Which solutions did you explore? What research did you conduct?
- Do your readers experience the same problem or might it be slightly different?
- What were your doubts? Do your readers have different doubts?
To make your essay more valuable to readers, expand beyond your own struggle. In my post about taglines, for instance, I explain how others decided on their tagline. Orbit Media went without a tagline. Big Brand System uses a tagline on its home page, about page, and e-newsletters. Various others use a simple tagline on every web page. Readers can relate to the different options and decide which one is best for them.
The key to writing an essay that’s both engaging and persuasive is finding a balance between being comprehensive and maintaining momentum. So, include enough details and examples to make your advice concrete, but don’t wear your readers down with every exception. Readers can ask additional questions in the comment section.
Step 3. The climax
The climax of a story seems simple. In a thriller, the hero is victorious. He’s solved a crime. He’s defeated the enemy.
But what’s the climax in your essay?
It’s the solution to your conundrum. You find the holy grail.
But watch out. Your essay isn’t only about you.
The real hero is your reader. Even if you use your essay to share a personal story, your main aim is to educate and inspire your reader. The main body of the posts gives readers guidance, and your final paragraph encourages and inspires your readers by addressing them directly:
Web readers are busy.
They glance. They skim. They quickly make up their mind whether to hang around on your site or not.
So why do they come to your website?
And what’s absolutely essential to communicate?
Avoid clutter. Embrace brevity. Boost clarity.
Your search for the truth
The author of a thriller searches for answers: who committed the crime and how can we catch them? How can our heroes defeat the baddies?
Your story may feel less dramatic.
But you can use the same tricks to turn a boring tutorial into a gripping, persuasive essay.
Start looking for the drama. Where’s the tension between what is and what could be? What’s the real problem?
Once you’ve pinpointed the drama, narrate the search for your answer. And take your reader on your journey—a gripping and inspirational adventure.