I caught my college professor friend, Susan, watching one of “The Real Housewives” shows.
I wanted to call her on it but, before I knew it, I was sucked in. My head ached from the quick-cut editing and crazy camera movements.
Ah, the guilty pleasure of reality television shows. They can be a fun diversion, and we know they don’t require our full attention.
Don’t require our full attention? When did that become a good thing?
While some may argue that manipulative editing works well on reality shows, I argue this type of entertainment makes us lazy. It’s like eating the stale, day-old doughnut on the counter because we’re too lazy to walk around the corner for a yogurt.
As consumers, it is up to us to choose our mental stimulation. But as content creators, we have a job to do. That job is to engage our audience members, not manipulate them.
I tell my students that a good story is like a conversation in which the reader should participate. But to do this, we have to give the reader words that will engage his or her mind in a more full way.
Reality TV producers know tension—real or manufactured—is what keeps viewers wondering what will happen next. I’m forever trying to convince business writers to embrace tension as fiction authors do. Not through snark, but through solid ideas and good writing.
But good writing must also give the reader a reason to keep reading. If I talk at you or throw around facts and figures, there is no room for true conversation. But if I tell a story in which there is a problem to solve or goal to obtain, suddenly writer and reader become a team, both racing to a finish line.
Even better, the reader can add her story to the conversation. Now a true relationship is developing. (Feel free to do this in the comments below!)
I challenge communicators to think more like fiction writers and less like judges on “ Project Runway.” Here are a few tips:
1. Be clear about the conversation.
Quick subject changes or diversionary ramblings often mean the author hasn’t quite wrapped her arms around what she’s writing. Be a ruthless editor of your work. This isn’t to cut down the word count, but to tighten your argument.
2. Don’t shy away from tension, but don’t manufacture it, either.
There’s no need to offer writing’s equivalent of a quick cut. All stories have an inherent conflict: good and bad, black and white, boxers or briefs. Every subject has its opposite. That tension makes for good stories and good thinking. Present both sides of the argument to enhance the conversation and give your reader a reason to hang around.
3. Incite the imagination.
Don’t underestimate your readers. They can handle a compelling story that takes its time to make its point. Content should exploit this opportunity not by being long necessarily, but by not shying away from complex themes.
Now, hand me that remote. I hear there’s a new episode of “Shark Tank.”
Jill Pollack (@jillwritergrrl) is the founder and director of StoryStudio Chicago: The center for writing and writers. She teaches writing to both creative writers and business writers. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.