Writers need to throw tantrums more often. When you do, you break something. When you break something, you may do something new.
This is what happened to me with listicles. Listicles are the modern-day equivalent of ads. They’ve become boring. Listicles are a formula, and formulas can be terrible for surprise and intrigue.
One day during a frustrating writing session, I invented (go with it) the listicle with a tangent. I’ve been using this technique for a few years now.
What I learned from his technique is this: Readers fall in love with unexpected tangents and engage with your writing like never before. Here’s how to do it.
It starts with a list. Dah.
You write the headline of your listicle first. The headline dictates loosely what dot points make sense for the story.
You then write down your list of dot points the way you usually would. Nothing special or surprising so far. Then you look at the list. You think about which dot point could be a tangent. You see if there is a point that you could make longer than all the rest.
Recontainerizing a story
Your listicle is supposed to be the article you’re writing. I want to get a little nerdy for a second. I work in IT and one thing we do a lot is recontainerize software applications. This process takes an old application built on dinosaur technology, and creates the same app but with an entirely different end state.
The headline of your article is the story’s container. When you take a dot point and turn it into an unexpected story, you get a story within a story.
You can recontainerize stories. Why would you do this? So, you give the reader a much better reader experience. When a reader gets an experience they weren’t expecting they get lost in your story.
Could a dot point become a tangent?
This is a question I ask myself. If I’m writing a story about writing could I make one of the dot points a tangent? A tangent is an unrelated point at first. By the end of the tangent you tie it back to the main story creating something new.
For example, I could do a story about how to write better. I could give a few expected tips like write faster, create a process, read other writers, etc. Then I could insert a dot point about love.
I could explain a breakup I went through. I could share all the pain of having my heart stood on with steel boots. I could talk about how we traveled together. I could mention the night she was in a car crash. All of it could appear to be a tangent. Then at the end of the story I could mention how losing the love of my life happened around the same time I discovered writing. Bingo.
Now you have a tangent that helps a reader look at the process of writing in an entirely new way. Now your work looks different to every other smuck saying “write 10,000 words every day to be famous.”
Here is an example of a listicle with a tangent: How To Make Enough Money to Retire in the Next 5 Years
The point is permission-free writing
The reason this writing technique is extraordinary is because it gives you permission to dream a little. So many writers give up their dreams to write lifeless content and become $5 (Fiverr) freelancers, writing for the boring purpose of accumulating money.
Permission-free writing breaks the rules and reignites your ability to dream. Hanz Zimmer said, “You give everybody the license to be a little absurd.” In watching you save yourself through a story, you help the reader.
Tangents are badass.
Being too focused can become formulaic. Writing formulas can grow old, get grey hair, and die. You don’t want your writing to die, do you?
Maybe you follow my advice. Maybe you turn a dot point into a story or an unexpected tangent. Or maybe you find another way to throw a tangent in and come up with a new way to write. The point is the outcome. The point is to experiment with your writing and see what comes out. Experiments stop you from following trends and becoming a whisper in a locker room of footballers loudly bragging to each other after the game.
Subtle change is quiet progress. Quiet writing that breaks rules is extraordinary for readers to enjoy.
You can write a listicle and still be more interesting than the 5-ways-to-live-your-best-life crowd of bloggers.
Write a listicle the normal way. See if there is a dot point that stands out. See if one dot point can become a story. Dare to make one dot point of a listicle a tangent. When you write stories within stories that readers don’t expect, they are taken out of their comfort zone. They are intrigued. They want to understand if they missed something. They get lost in your story.
To have readers get lost in your story is the magic of writing. Put on a magic show with your articles by writing a listicle, getting lost in one dot point, and going on a tangent that comes full circle, back to the original headline.
Your writing is better for you and the reader when you break the rules.
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