Guillermo del Toro’s 3 Tips for Making a Good Horror Movie, Adapted to Blogging *
Watch this 1-minute and 53-second video:
1. Have emotionally relatable characters.
You have to give your audience more to stick around for than one-dimensional characters or the curiosity to see who's going to die next. If you rely on one-note hooks like drama or uniformity over range (don't mistake this for branding, please god), you will tire out your audience. It's easier to deliver what you think your readers expect when you deliver mostly one thing, but that initial hook gets boring, and a reader starts to feel the lack of connection. A lack of connection can translate fairly quickly into walking away.
Who are you? Why are you here? Who are you writing about? Why are they here? What rocks your socks? What makes you afraid? What are you working on? How do you feel about what you're working on?
We all get weak in the knees with a little flash of the old vulnerability and some dirt under the fingernails. These are the parts of you and the people you write about that will get us to nod along and say "me, too".
2. Use your voice in your storytelling.
When you started blogging, was there a particular blogger whose style you admired and tried to emulate? That can make for good practice, but if you've been around for more than three months, quit it. I mean it. Quit it. You have your own voice, and you should use it.
Remember that part up there about the importance of emotional relatability? That also applies to using your own voice when you write. Drop awkward affectations like never using capital letters or centering all your text or writing strings of one-sentence paragraphs. Don't try to be coy or funny in ways that your personality can't or doesn't carry off well.
"It's great to tell me to use my own voice, but how do I find it?" you ask. Well, here are three great steps to finding your own voice:
- Write with the intention of writing well. Concentrate on quality while you write. Your first draft doesn't have to be perfect, but continually publishing posts that have poor grammar, poor spelling, and a lack of attention to formatting will alienate readers and distract from your writing's goal.
- Edit your writing. It's one thing to throw up an easy blog post, but it's quite another to throw up an easy blog post presented as a one-sentence, 25-line-long block of text that abuses the uses of their, they're, and there. Editing is where the majority of writing happens, and it will lend your voice clarity and authority. Learn to embrace it, because it will bring readers back to your yard.
- Read your writing out loud when you edit. If you stumble over anything while you say it out loud, edit it, even if you love, love, love that line like it were your first born. When you speak your writing out loud, things like clumsy sentence structure and missing or extra words will leap out better than when you do a visual scan of your words alone.
Write it. Speak it. Edit it. Be awesome.
When you work on the basics of good writing rather than attempt to affect someone else's style, your voice will rise up on its own, and your unique voice is what your storytelling needs. Trust this.
3. Find new ways to tell classic stories. Be surprising.
Blogging has been around for less than 20 years, but storytelling has been around much longer than that, so our new-to-us stories will likely not be unique even in this new-ish medium. Include aspects of your stories that are identifiably unique so that you do more than just report your story along an already well-travelled path.
Finding a new way to tell a classic story can be as simple as noting your kid's characteristic facial quirk or relating the story to a prior personal experience you've shared — you can even go all out and recreate your story in a video or as comic panels — but stamp it with the twists and details that belong to no other telling of similar events. These kinds of elements surprise your readers and make your story memorable. They're the little jolts of delight or pangs of sadness that slip in where your audience didn't expect them.
In short, write your story well and in your own voice. It's the simplest, but sometimes hardest to follow, advice you'll get from me.
* This adaptation works best if you agree that making horror movies and blogging are kind of similar, and I am inclined to think that they are from a storytelling standpoint. The one large difference is that conventionally pretty blondes with libidos don't die first in blogging. If that happened, we'd be down a significant number of bloggers. It would be a massacre.
This entry was cross-posted at Medium on August 23, 2015.