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What's the Difference Between a Blogger and a Storyteller?


Do you blog or tell stories? Does your blogging include storytelling? Or are these mutually exclusive? Are blogs really meant to be stories? Should we rename them as such?

Stories and those who tell them of course have been around since the beginning of time. Think Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and the story told of the battle between good and evil. Now think of a recent novel, song, movie or other form of story that captured your attention and compelled you to share it with someone. Why did you do that?

Weblogs (later shortened to blogs) have been around since the early days of the Internet. It's earliest creator and Internet inventor, Tim Berners-Lee regularly updated web pages with a growing list of websites. Today, just about anyone can read/write a blog. The blogoshpere is filled with lists of things, tips, news, how-to's, you name it. Over 4 million blog posts will be published today. Do we care?

So, storytelling has been with us forever while interest in blogging, according to Google Insights overtook it in early 2004.

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I'm afraid, the more we've progressed with blog strategy, practice and technology the further away we've journeyed from telling and sharing compelling stories. And this, in my view is the missing ingredient in too many blogs. Blogs where there's too much focus on information, facts and boring sameness. Devoid of drama and a call to adventure these bland tasting blogs tend to calm our emotions instead of stirring up our convictions.

The difference between a blogger and a storyteller?

Storytellers evoke an emotional response. They make you feel what they feel. They strike a chord that resonates with something deep inside you and which may cause you to act, to change, to be moved to a new course of action.

There are certain elements to being an effective storyteller that, when present, have the ability to stir emotion. These are:

1. Structure.

Aristotle, over 2000 years ago first observed that in order for a story to be "whole," it must have, "a beginning, a middle and an end." It's through this framework we are taken on a journey at a point in time when, the stories protagonist answers a call to adventure, deals with obstacles in an unfolding plot until a point of climax results in an ending of tragedy, or in the broadest sense, comedy.

The story you tell to illustrate an idea or point you wish to make can be as short as a couple of sentences, a paragraph or as long as the post itself - as in the case of a customer success story. It's the narrative within this basic structure that is able to connect your audience with what you want them to feel.

2. Contrast.

Fill the middle of the story with the element of contrast. Contrast, creates interest, engagement and stimulates our emotions. We are accustomed to dealing with the ups and downs of life, with what could be with what is, inbound marketing vs. outbound, zone vs. man coverage and on and on we go.

We notice things that stand out. The last thing we want is for our audience to be indifferent or ambivalent about that which we're passionate about. In a marriage, feelings of hurt, irritation and even anger has far greater purpose towards redemption than if you just didn't care anymore. So too, pity the reader who doesn't give a crap, who isn't moved to take a position. Contrast creates tension and that's a good thing. The storyteller succeeds when polarity attracts movement through the stirring of emotion.

I've heard well-known bloggers say blogging is an arduous exercise, tough work, something they just feel compelled to do to reap its benefits. Perhaps you've felt this way too at times? Then, there's Seth Godin the storyteller - a master of contrast - who says it's not something he has to do, rather it's something he gets to do.

Take, for example, Godin's post today, Horizontal marketing isn't a new idea. Go ahead, click that link, see how he contrasts vertical marketing with horizontal marketing. Which has stronger appeal to you? How did he make you feel? Did he make you want to be more one way than the other?

A storyteller stirs emotion with the use of contrast and gets us to care enough to at least take a position, if not change or move closer to the call. On the other hand, a blogger, without elements of story, while dedicated and mechanically sound (use of keywords, proper grammar, etc.) is like monotone to our ears and our emotions having failed to fire, make the experience forgettable.

3. Personification. defines personification as:

  • The attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions.
  • The representation of a thing or abstraction in the form of a person.
  • The person or thing embodying a quality or the like; an embodiment or incarnation: He is the personification of tact.

Storytellers connect information with people (and the likeness of human characteristics) we can identify with. It makes the information more entertaining, meaningful, believable and memorable. And when that happens, light bulbs start going off in our minds and hearts.

Volkswagen's 2012 Super Bowl commercial, "The Dog Strikes Back" is the story of a dog, the personification of someone inspired by the 2012 VW Beetle, to whip himself into shape. The twist (contrast) at the end of the 60 second spot has a character from Star Wars IV voting the dog vs. "the Vader kid" from last year as the funniest. And that's when a full-sized Darth Vader appears leaving no doubt which character he believes offers the most comedic power.

This is what good storytellers do. They find ways to translate key and abstract concepts like inspiration and desire for something wonderful into relational experiences that strike our emotional chords. Who hasn't dressed up as a superhero or imagined they could have the power to fly up a staircase - to command a car's engine to start?

What it all comes down to is readers are really looking for some kind of human connection - some kind of personification of your idea, the point you're trying to make. Without this element, too many blogs fall flat and the opportunity to communicate is lost.

Ask yourself, the next time you feel moved by a form of communication: How did its elements of structure, contrast and personification trigger emotion? Then use these elements the next time you write about something - be a storyteller.

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