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How do you begin a story in a blog post?

I usually don't begin writing my beginnings until I've written what  I like to call the guts of my stories or blog posts. However, on occasion, the beginning comes at, well, the beginning.

No matter, I've come up with 12 ways on how to begin a story or blog post. They work. I promise. I've used most of them on my personal family history blog, Family Stories, and if I haven't used them there, then I've used them on guest posts or in my column In2Genealogy in the digital magazine Shades of the Departed.

And these blog post starter ideas work for Cousin Hunters, for genealogical societies, for professional genealogists, and for genealogy-related businesses.  I've included some examples for the different types of genealogy bloggers.

I also wanted to point out that one of the most effective ways to have quality content on your blog, is to tell it in story form. And just because it's in story form does not mean that it is not factual. We're using storytelling conventions to communicate our thoughts and messages on our blogs. Did I mention it makes for quality content? So, here we go.

12 ways to begin a story in a blog post:

  1. Ask a question. This can be research-related or a general question, and my example is how I started this blog post. However, I tend to use this method a lot because it lends itself nicely to researchers. We are always asking questions and searching for the answers, are we not? It's how our research stories always start. This is also an excellent method for genealogical societies. Instead of writing a ho hum blog post announcing your next meeting, try asking a question. Like, "So, what are you doing Saturday morning June 23rd at 10am? The yard? Cleaning the house? Why don't you come on down to the Amegy Bank, 2nd floor, in Tomball, Texas and join the Chaparral Genealogical Society for what is sure to be a fantastic time listening to and visiting with the genealogy author and speaker Emily Croom? And? You might just learn some ways to research your family history. Plus, there will be donut holes and coffee. And then some of us get together and eat lunch at a local Mexican restaurant afterwards. At the very least, you'll go home well-fed. So, will we see you there?" Or something like that. [This is my GenSoc and this is what I'll being doing this Saturday. And you're absolutely invited.]
  2. Use an anecdote or short narrative. Basically, this means to have a story within a story. My favorite example is starting out a family story with my personal story of finding out the family story I was researching for. Confused? I just used this method recently when I blogged about my grandfather James Wesley Blacketer, but I also used it with my other grandfather Big Paw Paw.]
  3. Start with a definition. This is a great technique for when you have something technical to go over. I don't suggest you go over more than one thing that is overly technical, but when you do go over one, define it so that your reader is starting on the same page, if you will, as you. If you don't, they might get confused and either stop reading or be upset. Neither of which is a goal with your blog. [Unless you're using suggestion number 5 below.]
  4. Use a simile or metaphor. Okay. A simile is likening two things with the words like or as, and a metaphor is likening two things without using like or as. A metaphor is a little harder to do, but the whole idea for either one is to make your readers understand something better. You are likening something they probably know to something that you're trying to explain in your blog post. For example, "She smelled like summer." This gets the reader to think about why she smelled like summer and who "she" is. It compels them to read further to find out the relevance.
  5. Say something outrageous or provocative. If you're looking for comments, this is a great way to get them. Trust me. And you don't even have to agree with your outrageous or provocative statement, but it makes for a great way to hook your reader in. Then you could either tell why you support the statement or why you disagree with it. For example, you could start with the statement, "I don't need to cite my sources. I already know where all my information comes from." I guarantee this will grab people's attention. And will probably cause your commenting system to shut down from all the comments. Unless, of course, you're using Captcha. In that case, people might write blog posts and tweet, Facebook, and Google Plus your comments. All of which is really good for your blog traffic if they link back to your blog post. [And hopefully they'll spell your name correctly.]
  6. Use a quote. This is very similar to the idea of using a definition at the beginning. Find a quote online or in a book that resonates with you and the story you're trying to write or have written. Just don't forget to correctly cite the quote. [And a great place to go for quotes is the quote section of Dictionary.com because it gives you the citation for the quote. Bonus.]
  7. Don't start at the beginning of your story. Start at the middle or the end. Actually, I remember from college being taught short stories should start as close to the end as possible. And what exactly does this mean? It'll make more sense when we go over how to end a blog post or story, but it's about starting at the end of your story and then flashing back to the events that lead up to the end. For example, if at the end of your family story, your ancestor dies, then start with their death, then jump back to the events and story that leads up to their death. Remember, a story is not necessarily a timeline of events. You can mix it up within reason. In fact, this makes it more interesting to the reader. And I kind of did this in my post about my grandfather James Wesley Blacketer.
  8. Begin with a panoramic view then focus in on your story or blog post. For example, if you're going to be talking about your great-uncle from West Virginia who was a coal miner, you might briefly describe the life a coal miner or the setting of West Virginia. Briefly. Remember, these are somewhat short stories that we're posting on our blogs.
  9. Start out with a mystery or a puzzle to solve. Okay. This is somewhat like the question method, but a little different, and this shouldn't be too hard to do since we're always trying to solve mysteries and puzzles about our ancestors. How can a business blog pull this off? Well, for a professional genealogist who takes clients, talk about a mystery you solved. For a genealogy-related business, present the mystery or puzzle that your product or service solves and explain how you solved it. If your potential customer or client has the same "mystery" or "puzzle" that needs solving, then this type of blog post might be what converts them to an actual customer or client.
  10. Begin with dialogue. Done correctly, this can be very effective. You can't do too much dialogue especially since it's on a blog, but it can be done. I've done it a time or two when I wrote about my Dad and then again when I wrote about my daughter and my 2nd great-grandparents. It can be engaging because it makes the reader feel like they entered the middle of a conversation, and now they need to figure out what's being talked about. You engage them, and then they read on.
  11. Use an onomatopoeia. You know, a word that sounds like the sound it makes when it's happening. Like "drip." When water drips, it sounds like "drip". If your story or blog post has a water element that possibly drips [the water, not the story or blog post] you could use this technique. Highly specialized, I know, but possible. And it makes for a great beginning. When someone reads, "Drip. Drip. Drip," they think why is it dripping? What is dripping? And why do I suddenly need to use the restroom? See? You've engaged them. [After they use the restroom, of course.] And I kind of did this in my 2-parter post about my 2nd great grandparents, except it's not really an onomatopoeia, but more of a repetitive cadence used as a transition. Sort of. But it's a similar idea.
  12. State a statistic. Okay. This could get real boring real quick unless your readers like stats. And this could possibly fall under the outrageous and provocative method, but it's still an effective way to engage your readers. Here's an example, "10 out of 12 people hate genealogy and think it's stupid." [What?!?] Make sure your stats are carefully cited, and, remember, for ever stat that says one thing, there's probably another stat that contradicts it. But? You probably just increased your chances of getting comments because of it.
There are more ways to start a story. I'm sure of it. So don't be stingy and share some ways I didn't cover in comments below. How do you begin a story or a blog post?

~Caroline

 


Comments

Helen Smith
06/19/2012 23:45

Excellent list! Starting with a visual prompt such as a photo mystery or of an item from history also works well particularly if it is an item not used today.

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06/20/2012 00:36

This post is a keeper! Very timely advice. A post I'm working on isn't cooperating with my efforts to write it. Hate when that happens!

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4YourFamilyStory
06/20/2012 08:11

Thanks, Helen! And you are so very right. A picture is a great prompt as is an heirloom and/or a piece of an ephemera.

Thanks for reading!

~C

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4YourFamilyStory
06/20/2012 08:13

Thanks, Jana! I hate it when my thoughts, feelings, and words fight with each other. LOL. Why is it do hard sometimes to get everyone to cooperate?

Thanks for stopping by again, Jana. And I'm glad the list was helpful.

~C

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06/20/2012 09:16

Great post, Caroline! Printing off now for future reference....

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06/20/2012 22:03

Really useful! People should copy this blog and keep it. These are all solid ways to begin a story. And I think you are absolutely right that "Just because it is in story form does not mean it is not factual." Heck, life itself occurs in story form and it is pretty doggone factual. I think people are hard-wired to listen to stories. Narrative rules. We all want to be the heroes of our own lives--see first line, Dickens' David Copperfield.

Here's one more idea: Start with a short sentence that makes the reader ask a question about what is going on or what has happened (a variation of your "start with a puzzle," I guess). I just wrote an article that began, "Luck is with us these days." I wasn't even conscious of devising a beginning -- it just came out.

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4YourFamilyStory
06/20/2012 22:51

Thank you, Mariann! I agree with using a short sentence to begin a story like, "I knew it." Makes the reader ask, "Who are you, what did you know, and why?" Makes a great hook. :)

I always look forward to your comments, Mariann, and I really appreciate them.

~C

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06/24/2012 08:01

What a great post! I have been a follower of your 48-Hour Challenge, but only found this blog this morning. Because I just started blogging myself a month ago (2 blogs, actually - apparently, I have too much to say for just one), I poured another cup of tea, went to your first post, and started taking notes. You've hit things I never thought of, and I can already see how those ideas will help both of my blogs - one of which you directly inspired. Your writing style is totally accessible and conversational, and your advice is practical and insightful. These 12 ideas, in particular, have already given me several idea for future blog topics. Keep it up!

By the way - following your advice, here are links to my blogs:
http://dogwoodbranches.wordpress.com/
and
http://grandmaspicturebox.wordpress.com/

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06/26/2012 20:08

Thanks for the great ideas for starting off well with writing posts. I am saving the list in my Evernote Genealogy file to give me a jump start when I'm stuck.

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4YourFamilyStory
06/27/2012 06:34

Thank you Nancy! I'm glad you found it helpful.

Thanks for reading! :)

~C

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4YourFamilyStory
06/27/2012 06:41

Thank you, Mary Beth, for your kind comments! I'm glad you found this blog post helpful, and I'm honored you went back and read (and took notes of) the rest of my posts on this blog. :)

And I appreciate you stopping by & commenting!

~C

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