For Father’s Day this year, I got a copy of The Passage to Power, Robert Caro’s latest boat-anchor of an installment in the life of Lyndon Johnson. (I got it, in fact, from my mom. She seems a bit confused about how this holiday works, but I’m grateful for the gift.) I opened it up and right away, I was sucked in. Even though I was in the middle of two other books, they were set aside as I dived into Caro’s world.
Why is Caro so compelling? For one thing, he applies the old storyteller’s trick of beginning his book in media res, right in the heart of things, by placing the reader inside Air Force One on November 22, 1963, the moment the presidency changes hands from Kennedy to Johnson.
Then Caro backtracks, confirming that while, yes, the presidency had been Johnson’s most ardent desire since he was a poor boy from the Texas hill country, his ascendance is clouded, not just by the violent death of his predecessor, but by years of stagnation as a powerless vice president…the scorn of Kennedy, his brother and the White House staff…looming money and influence scandals…and the utter failure of the late president’s legislative efforts, particularly those aimed at redressing injustice with civil rights. Even though I knew what was about to happen, I couldn’t put the book down. And it’s a heavy book (literally).
To hook readers, Caro used storytelling craftsmanship to transform a mere sequence of events into a mesmerizing drama.
To hook readers with your content, you must do the same. Instead of providing mere information, frame your material within a dramatic context – a story – that adds emotional urgency to your material.
Here’s what you need:
Desire: Johnson wants the presidency. Badly. In your content, the desire is something your readers want, like profits, efficiency and regulatory compliance. That desire is the engine of your content piece, the reason for its existence.
Example: “Today, enterprises are turning to the cloud to expand their IT resources without exploding their budgets.”
Danger: Scandal, failure, ridicule – these were the obstacles to Johnson’s ambitions. You need to impose obstacles as well; without them, there’s no conflict, no tension, no drama. Articulate the things that stand in the way of readers getting what they want, the thing they desire.
Example: “While cloud computing is attractive, its silver lining may turn to lead when security breaches and access protocols fail to protect your customers’ privacy – and their confidence in your business.”
Magic sword: Johnson turned public grief into political support for Kennedy’s unfinished agenda, wielding their emotions as a cudgel to bring recalcitrant legislators in line with his legislation. After you’ve established dramatic tension (desire vs. danger), you introduce your ideas – the substance of your content – as the “magic sword” that overcome the danger to achieve the desire.
Example: “By applying these ten cloud computing best practices, you can ensure rock-solid security that won’t blockade your online revenue streams.”
The most likely spot for your story will be in the beginning, the introduction to your post, article, video, podcast, white paper, ebook, etc. By leading with drama, you add an emotional edge to your content that makes it more likely to be consumed, shared and discussed.
Learning how to write stories is one of many powerful skills you and your colleagues can learn through my in-house content writing training workshops.