The Narrative Paradox of Blogging

Blogging as reverse narrative

Blogging is a really hard way to tell a long story.

The presentation is in reverse order, the opposite of chronological.  The most recent event is presented first, so that the end of the story up until now occurs to the reader first.  Then next down the page is the previous post and so on . . . into the past. I think it’s interesting that this is how we percieve the story of our lives — with our most recent experience on top of the stack. Our most recent experiences are freshest in our memories. To go back further takes some effort.

But can blogs tell extended stories? Stories are not unprocessed records of moments, they are how we make sense of the sequence of events, putting time an causality into a rationale for how we got from then to now.

The challenge of blogging stories over time

So the standard narrative experience of story is the opposite — start at the beginning and move forward through time. Novels, epic poems, jokes all set the scene and wend their way forward as one thing leads to another. They are explanations of how things happened or arguments from premise to conclusion.

Newspaper stories are a bit of an exception, since the update which is new often is the lede. But very quickly the. middle paragraphs have to go back toward the beginning to provide context and some narrative of events.

Building blocks: Reviews, Tutorials and Essays

Since anyone may come upon any page a website at any time, every post needs to somehow be self contained. That lends itself to posts that point to other, longer, more extensive content on the one hand or creation of that self contained content. Product reviews and tutorials are probably the most common website content that gets pointed to and frequently read. The analytics show it’s true of this site. Even very old reviews of products that are no longer in existence  turn up in search and show as click throughs.

The other useful building block is the essay. A self contained analysis of an event,  idea or trend that provides deeper insight for an interested audience. I’ve seen over and over how that audience can develop over time when some one with an idea sets out to create some consistent content on a website. Often it takes years of writing before a broad audience finds a site. I’m sure many sites linger in obscurity.

Anticipate an occasional audience

Going on 20 years of blogging, at this point I mostly write for myself. These are public notes about my own process, my own thoughts. It’s the process of writing that matters as I rarely go back through what I’ve written. So I’ve allowed the web to find what’s useful here.

In retrospect, it would have been a bit more useful for me to have to spent some more time on essays that explore a single idea in enough depth, creating a self-contained description of what I’ve learned. My short reviews of books rarely turn up up in search as they provide very little by way of description and serve mostly as personal reaction to what I’ve read. Notes to myself, not the broader potential reader.

Very simple really. It’s useful to take a step back and consider how to let the reader in and what a reader might experience after stumbling on a blog post. Thinking about who that reader is, what they’re looking for and what they likely already know and believe. Picture them. Even when the audience is really just the author himself, 20 years from now.