In the last section, we talked about how with any piece of writing you share, you are in conflict with your reader. We also talked about how the way to work through that conflict is to create tension, and the way to create tension is to open and close plots.
How do you open plots? You open a plot whenever you create a question in your reader’s mind. You want them to think, “what happens next?” You want them to think, “I have to keep reading because she’s about to get to the good stuff, the solution I’ve been looking for.”
And I am. Keep reading.
How do you close plots? You close a plot whenever you answer a question you have created in your reader’s mind. You need to close plots often, in a timely matter. No one likes a tease.
Most writers don’t think of themselves as opening and closing plots within their non-fiction writing, but they do. Just read any popular blogger’s work. They may not think they are doing it, and may not do it consciously. That’s only because they intuitively understand the concept of tension and don’t need to actively insert it into their writing.
For the rest of us, we need to be proactive about including tension in our writing. That’s why I’ve put together an 8-step process you can use to make sure this happens.
How to create tension in every piece of content you write
This is a step-by-step list that I used to use when I blogged publicly. Even though I hardly ever updated it, that blog reached around 2700 subscribers before I moved to an email list. I still use a lot of what I’m about to share when I write Prose on Fire emails, and my list has more than doubled in just a month’s time. So these steps are tried and tested. But if any step sounds irrelevant to your situation, feel free to revise or discard it and only use what you want. I won’t know the difference.
1. Pick something to announce.
For the most part, you’ll announce your blog subscription or your email list (the holy grail of keeping up with your audience). Sometimes, you’ll announce your resume or portfolio so you can brand yourself and turn that into an employment opportunity. Sometimes, you’ll announce something people have to pay for, like your new book or your product or your services or your startup or whatever else you care about. But mostly, you just want to entice people to your email list. This is where building an audience starts.
Sometimes, someone will tell me that they write their blog for fun or because they need a creative outlet. They insist they are not promoting anything and they have no announcements. And that’s perfectly fine. People have many other reasons for being online besides building an audience. These steps are only for those who want to build an audience.
2. Think of what someone (an employer, a reader, a potential client, whatever) who wants what you have to announce (your subscription, your product, your service, whatever) would like to read.
We are reverse engineering here. I often see bloggers who stick a little message about what they do at the bottom of their blog content, and then proceed to write about whatever they want, day in and day out, even it it only tangentially relates to what they are offering.
You will not get great audience-building results this way. It’s smarter to write with purpose, with the marketing in mind.
I wrote this as an series originally because I wanted to see if there was interest in a full-blown course on the subject. (There was.) I didn’t just stick my announcement at the end of all my outgoing emails, though. I started with the course and thought backwards to find some basic concepts people would find interesting and useful—concepts that were related to the course, so that when the announcement came, people were already interested to hear it.
This is how you make announcements without getting backlash. People like and appreciate announcements when they are relevant.
3. Write your post however you want, putting whatever words you want onto the page in whatever order you want.
Make your post all useful and epic and whatever other flavor of the day you hear about. These concepts are important also, so use everything you have in your toolbox to write a good post. This step is easy because it’s what you already do.
Go back section by section (and if you’re serious about this whole “building an audience” thing, paragraph by paragraph) and make sure that you close a plot and open a plot in *every single one.* This creates tension. This creates a story.
Now you’ve made it fun for your reader to learn, you’ve given them positive feelings about you, and you’ve taught them that all their questions will be answered as long as they keep reading. This is why people choose to keep reading.
5. Edit again.
This time, you are editing for those internet market-y things like SEO, title optimization, or whatever else you typically edit for. I don’t do this step because I don’t write for search engines or social networks, but many bloggers swear by it and it obviously works for a lot of people. Hey, whatever is working for you already, keep at it. All this Tension stuff is merely meant to be another (extremely powerful) tool in your toolbox.
6. Go back and read your post like a normal person would.
Does it sound human? Is it useful? Is it epic? Is it kind? Is is smart? Is it a win-win for both you and the reader?
People don’t want to be manipulated. I’ve written everything here with good intentions, so please don’t use it to manipulate people. Be a good person, have passion for what you do, and make sure you are *helping* people. Snake oil stinks.
Side note: It *really* helps to have a handle on nonviolent communication as you’re following these steps. The topic is too much of a tangent to cover here, but I might touch on it in a few weeks when some of my other projects settle down.
7. Write a sentence or two about the thing you are announcing (from step 1).
Add it to the beginning of your post (optional) and the end of your post (required). This is called a call-to-action.
Why the beginning? This is optional but especially useful if you’re selling something, because people don’t like surprises. If you are launching a book, for example, and you want people to buy the book at the end of the post, it would be nice to let people know that at the beginning so they can choose if they want to continue reading. No one appreciates a bait-and-switch or a hard sell that comes out of nowhere. So make it clear from the very beginning of the post that you have more to offer after the post. (You can think of it as foreshadowing, if that helps.)
Why the end? Because this is where a call-to-action belongs. You’ve created all this tension throughout your post, and now you want to offer people a way to relieve it. That way is whatever you selected in #1.
It helps if, in your last paragraph, you open a plot that can best be closed by taking action on your announcement. Example:
Last paragraph: “I’m publishing a follow-up to this post next week called _________. I’ll cover ______, ____ , and ____ and also answer the question _______?”
Announcement: “If you enjoyed this post and would like to be notified of new posts, you may be interested in subscribing to my RSS feed.”
8. Publish, share, etc.
Whatever you typically do here is fine. A post with tension will find legs of its own.
If you are ready to build your audience, I encourage you to grab my free 7-Day Get Your Book Selling Quickstart. There are several tips to help you build your audience, and several more that will help you get your book selling now, if you have one. Plus, did I mention it’s free?
Here’s the two-step process:
- Step 1: Sign up for the FREE 7-Day Get Your Book Selling Quickstart »
- Step 2: Read the next post in this audience-building series, The Only Marketing Plan You Need For Your Book »