You might be surprised to learn that a prospective client once asked me what I know about content writing considering my academic background and fiction writing. I politely pointed to some of my samples on the web and explained that the two are not mutually exclusive. The more I thought about it, the more it became obvious that content writing and fiction writing have similarities.
Both need to maintain the attention but to do that you need to grab the attention. Marley was dead, to begin with, so begins A Christmas Carol. Ideally, your story needs a killer opening to hook your audience. A piece of fiction can get over an opening that doesn’t hook, but it takes a lot of effort.
Web content also needs a relevant killer opening. Directly or indirectly, web content is attempting to sell something. Here, as with fiction, you must hook your audience. On the web, you have just 15 seconds to hook them before they go on to something else. Otherwise, whether your content is 300 words or 3000, it will all be for nothing.
A story needs a clear beginning, middle and end. It is a journey from start to finish – typically in the format of a three-act tale. Although these conventions can be broken, the one thing you can’t do without for most readers is a sense that the story is going somewhere.
In content writing, you need to show that you are going somewhere – that there is an end game. You’re conveying information and though you don’t have chapters, your structure is in the subheadings and paragraphs. If your reader can’t see where your story is going, they simply won’t finish.
I described the opening line as a hook, but the second hook you need is the one that will maintain their interest. In fiction, it’s empathy or emotional engagement. That can be the desire to see the hero win or the villain lose. It could be overcoming a difficulty, an obstacle or something else. Either way, there is a triumph of some sort. We know that conflict is a plot device that drives story more than anything else.
In content writing, the hook is the level of engagement: it’s presenting yourself as an authority, continuing to maintain their interest throughout the article. You’re probably trying to sell something (directly or indirectly) and the “sale” may be that you’re simply building trust.
During a typical three-act story, you should always be building towards something. Act one is building the setting and the characters. In act two, the plot is established but your story is establishing itself now and setting up act three. Act two is where you do the majority of your world building.
It’s not that different in content writing. The first “act” for want of a better word, should present the problem, even ask questions “have you experienced this? Read on…” The second “act” should go into detail, present scenarios and start building the story of the solution, compelling the reader to carry on.
Act three in a piece of fiction is the climax where everything comes together in the finale. Loose ends are tied, sub-plots are resolved and everything concludes (hopefully) with the reader feeling satisfied and pleased they got to the end.
The third act in web content writing presents the solution to the problem presented in the first act. It also flows seamlessly from the second act where you’ve compounded and explained the problem in greater detail. The climax may also include a call to action.