The film industry has a massive amount of jargon terms, some seemingly created with the sole purpose of confusing outsiders and innocent newbies.
C47s come to mind, the bleeding edge technology behind the creation of a film. (This high-tech device is also known to us mortals as a clothespin.)
But you’re a blogger. How does filmmaking even affect you?
It’s simple. Blogs are stories. Bloggers are storytellers.
Word by word, we transmit a message to our readers through a journey of highs and lows in our writing. Does that sound familiar? It should.
This is where screenwriting concepts can come in handy for your blog writing.
From the first Fade In to the final Fade Out, screenwriters have an extensive lingo for a wide array of concepts that they carefully use in their stories to make them emotionally compelling and narratively effective.
As freelance bloggers, we can learn a lot from their ability to create powerful visual stories out of plain words and engage with audiences through captivating narrative devices. The conflict, however, is that the convenience of these tools often gets clouded by a dense layer of confusing jargon.
So let’s dig into 10 useful screenwriting concepts and terms today, and I’ll show you how to adapt them to your freelance blogging work.
#10: Dramatic Beats
No, not an intense pair of headphones. The word beat has two meanings in film: it indicates a short pause between lines of dialogue and, most importantly, it denotes a single action that represents a specific behavior in a character.
We’re going to focus on the latter.
You just finished writing a blog post. You checked the grammar, you checked the content, your choice of words, punctuation, everything. All fine. But… something still doesn’t click. If everything is in there, then what on earth is still missing?
Worry not, Luke Skyblogger. That little thing you’re looking for is what screenwriters call dramatic beats. They are the little parts that make up the whole, the single self-contained units that produce those highs and lows I mentioned earlier.
Without them, your post reads like a dull and uniform string of thoughts, or like an uninterrupted monologue you dump onto your readers.
To fix this problem, remember how the scenes in a movie are structured:
- A character wants something.
- The character goes for it.
- The character finds opposition.
- The conflict rises.
- The tension is released (either the character achieves the goal or fails to do so).
And on to the next scene.
You might associate this to the conventional structure of a paragraph:
But it goes further than that. Dramatic beats relate not only to the arrangement of information, but to the way you connect with the reader. Ask yourself how you can focus on each of your post’s key points so the reader cares about every one of them.
Write down your ideas for a post and divide them into dramatic beats:
- Which of these ideas contain eye-catching keywords?
- Which of them can become funny lines?
- Which of them can make good subheadings?
- Which are introductory?
- Which are conclusive?
Adapting this concept to your writing helps you become clearer with your work, develop concision and create a dynamic flow that truly moves your readers.
#9: Beat Sheet
Now that we know how to harness the power of the dramatic beats, we can go one step further.
The beat sheet is an infallible tool that screenwriters always use at the initial stage of writing a story. It’s the process of outlining the previously developed beats and organizing them in a way that generates the best response in the audience.
You can adapt the structure of dramatic beats to your blog writing by following this pattern:
- Your intention: Why am I talking about this issue and not another?
- The description of the issue: How can I contextualize the reader with what I’m writing about?
- The conflict: What is the core reason this issue is relevant to the reader?
- Raise the tension: How can I secure the concern of the reader and make this section of my writing memorable? With comedy? Excitement? The promise of a free bundle of puppies?
- Release the tension: Finish with a bang. Leave both your message and your writing style clear to the reader with a concise and impactful climax.
Remember: this is not a template for each of your paragraphs, but a pattern that the flow of your ideas can take to help readers enjoy their journey through your posts from start to finish.
Now, go out there and beat the sheet out of your blogs!
#8: The Blow
“Great buildup, but where’s the blow?”
That’s what you may hear at countless meetings as anxious screenwriters rush to rewrite entertaining screenplays with clever dialogues and extraordinary occurrences, all the while struggling to maintain the logic of the story and the evolution of its characters.
Sounds difficult? Well, that’s not too far from the creation process of a blog post.
Comedic or not, every written piece needs a punchline that lives up to its premise without disregarding redaction, internal logic and an effective connection with the reader. This applies to single sentences as well as entire posts and everything in between.
If you’re looking for audience engagement, you need a strong blow. But what exactly is that?
In screenwriting, the blow or the button is the final and most critical event or joke of a scene. All the previous jokes, actions and performances lead up to this, so it HAS TO be appealing. If the blow doesn’t work or is nonexistent, it can become a nakamura, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
This principle applies to us freelance bloggers too.
A good blow pays off the reader’s emotional and informational anticipation (that’s what buildup refers to). That is to say, it comes after the promise of useful content and a well-structured logical flow.
The blow is the fulfillment of that promise with the added bonus of making an emotional association with YOUR writing style. Among several other similar blog posts, readers will remember the one YOU wrote thanks to the most memorable lines that tied into your content.
An effective blow needs to be planned to make the most of the reader’s anticipation. You can’t expect to write a persuasive sentence, paragraph or post in one try, so rewriting is the key. To have a cohesive blog post that ends on a high note, you will probably have to rewrite it several times.
When you first write, you might focus on being accurate and making a connection with the target audience, but then later decide when you read your draft that it sounds bland or has lost its appeal. So you rewrite it, focusing on making a good punchline.
You read it again and realize the punchline is unrelated to the point you’re trying to make. Or perhaps you forced a clever ending that tries too hard and attracts too much attention to itself.
Don’t be afraid of finding (and fixing) flaws in your writing. When you have the essence of the content written down, rewrite it as many times as necessary.
Then and only then, dear Thor Blogginson, focus on finishing with a bang.
#7: Puke Draft
Every freelance blogger has written a puke draft.
(Don’t worry. It has nothing to do with any kind of intoxication.)
A puke draft is that first uncontrolled release of inspiration that you need to liberate to start warming up your engines. It’s the culmination of the fight against the blank page, the regurgitation of ethereal ideas onto an unsuspecting word processor.
Okay, enough with the metaphorical nausea. You get the idea.
No amount of blank page contemplation can compare to just letting your words pour out onto that clean white page.
When you feel dizzy with an idea and your world is spinning, laying down and closing your eyes is a temporary solution. But letting out the intoxication is a surer way to get rid of the discomfort.
After you’ve exhausted all of your ideas and you see the word count racking into the thousands, go take a breather. Go for a walk. Avoid staring at a screen for a while.
Next, return to read all you’ve written and start dividing your block of text into the beats we discussed earlier. Then make your version of a beat sheet.
Read it. See? Now it’s all coming into shape. You really just needed to get all that creative mess out of your system.
That is the puke draft. Now I promise I will not keep alluding to it.
Next time you feel a dizzying swarm of muddled ideas, just remember to let them all out. It doesn’t matter if you make a literary mess at first. Just let it out. I’ll hold your hair for you.
#6: Fridge Joke
Have you ever gone to the fridge looking for a slice of cheese at 2 a.m. on a Sunday?
First, if you have, then I’m relieved I’m not the only one. Second, a comical epiphany may have landed upon you at that moment of cheese-craving boredom. “Of course! Now it makes sense! Dramatic beats, like the headphones! hahaha.”
That, my dear Bilbo Bloggins, is the result of a fridge joke.
Fridge joke is a term used to define those jokes that go over the audience’s head at first due to lack of clarity or failed execution by the screenwriter, but land when the film or show is over and they finally understand why they were supposed to laugh.
The term is named after that example of getting home and absentmindedly opening the fridge (fridges are to comedic logic what showers are to philosophical thoughts, as you may know).
As a freelance blogger, you obviously don’t want to miss the mark with your content. The reader needs to understand your writing instantly and effectively.
To achieve this:
- Every fact needs to be clear, accurate and concrete.
- Every joke needs to lighten up the content and motivate the reader to keep reading.
- Every call to action needs to convince the reader that it is worth the time and, if applicable, the money.
- Every blog post needs to leave memorable information in the mind of the reader.
If you keep this in mind, your content will be unambiguously enjoyable and practical.
Although fridge jokes indicate a lack of initial understanding, the long-lasting effect of leaving memorable pieces of your blogs resonating in the mind of your readers can be beneficial. When you compose a valuable post with a strong view and a skillful redaction, you can rest assured that a significant part of your audience will still be thinking about what you wrote hours later — without any need for your content to have missed the mark in the first place.
#5: Killing Kittens
Freelance bloggers and screenwriters might be the most ruthless human beings on Earth. They sacrifice little kittens for writing success!
Well, no… or at least I hope not.
You probably have heard a different variation of this term: “Kill your darlings,” often used in fiction writing. It means removing your favorite ideas for the sake of the whole piece.
Sometimes you have such a good idea that you can’t stop searching the right place for it. You write it in, you write it out, but it never seems to fit anywhere. When that happens, start considering if you could do better without it altogether.
I know. It is painful. That little idea might have been the reason you started writing that post the way you did, or it might have been the inspiration that saved you from the blank page back in the puke draft stage, or maybe you feel that it has the potential to be a great blow.
You look at it the way you would look at a fluffy kitten and wonder how anybody could possibly harm such a precious little creature. So you keep it.
But the time will come when you realize that your favorite line sticks out like a sore thumb. You need to remove it for the sake of the post as a whole.
Good news is that it is not an actual kitten. It’s just an idea. It helped you in its moment, but it has now become a residue.
If you think it’s such a good idea that it would be a shame to forget about it altogether, then write it down in a separate document where you keep all of your rescued kittens. It can be helpful in a future time, just not now.
#4: The Area
The area shares the same concept as ‘the spot’, say, when you ask somebody to scratch your back.
Higher, lower, over here, right there… You can’t explain it in a single word but you know exactly where it is. That’s the area.
All blogs have a specific concept that they focus on. Each post focuses on a specific issue.
The blogger has the responsibility of delivering content concerning that subject without having to remind the reader what it is at every turn.
The area has to be clear to the reader, but the whole post can’t be an allusion to the topic you intend to talk about. To create a solid post and ultimately a solid blog, you need to use concrete tools that illustrate the matter, such as the ones you always see here in Be a Freelance Blogger.
There are technical tools like:
- Bold and italics
- CAPITALIZATION (sorry, I’m not yelling at you)
…and creative tools like:
- Analogies and metaphors
- Clear examples
- Relatable situations
Now, the notion of area also helps us with another aspect of blog writing.
Neither freelance bloggers nor screenwriters have enough time to wait for the exact words to describe the idea we want to write about, much less the exact words to write on the page.
So, in order to avoid long hours of procrastination until those words magically appear, head right to the keyboard and define the area of the post you’re going to write.
Consider all the factors that affect that specific post. Research the topic, understand the wishes of the client, study the niche, identify the most appropriate tone, find the missing cup of coffee you were drinking when you headed right to the keyboard AND, most importantly…
Find your focus. Find your voice.
#3: Fish Business
How you begin your posts is vital. All the possible ways to do it… well, that’s a whole different can of worms.
Fish business is a quick set-up at the beginning of a screenplay. It hooks the audience with enough information to awaken their attention, but not enough to exhaust all the substance of the story.
As opposed to a prologue or a foreword, it hits the ground running. Most TV shows can’t spend much time explaining all the existing backstory, films even less so. Now imagine how short and sweet blog posts need to be.
Web content is immediate by nature. Attention spans are getting shorter by the minute while the amount of new blogs increases. Blog writing is like a heist: you need to get in, do the job and get out.
Logically, blogs must be meaningful and engaging, but at the same time concise and undeviating. And what better way to communicate this to the reader than to establish it from the get-go?
The fish business is the part of the blog that introduces the reader to the area that the blog will talk about, right out of the gate and in a direct and engaging fashion. There is no time to explain the entire background of the topic you’re writing about before you actually start delivering the essence of the blog.
For example, the fish business of this post establishes the area in the first three words: the film industry.
Then, it presents the essence of the issue: the amount of jargon terms, followed by a funny-but-true example.
And finally, a tease of the core of the post: screenwriting jargon terms can be useful to freelance bloggers.
All of this is valuable information to the reader with the primary function of a fish bait (but not clickbait), assuring that the rest of the post is worthwhile.
As with the beat sheet, this is not a fixed template for the structure of the first paragraph, but a pattern for the presentation of the blog post to the reader.
Remember that the most important objective of the opening words of each post is to hook the attention of anyone who starts reading it. Accomplish this and you already have the reader flapping around in your boat, baby!
In the simple yet spot-on words of TV writer Bill Prady, “a Nakamura is a running gag that fails to run”, which means a failed attempt at a recurring reference throughout the screenplay or, in our case, throughout the blog post.
As freelance bloggers, we aren’t forced to make use of narrative devices like these, though a recurring keyword or phrase can aid us in making our blog writing stand out.
The problem is, when you find a reference or a joke amusing, it might not be amusing to everybody.
The best cure is prevention. Avoid depending on one joke, one line or one reference in your blogs, and use them only to enhance your content.
But a Nakamura doesn’t only teach you to avoid putting all your effort into one line. It can be applied to many more aspects of blog writing.
Take for instance the tone of a blog post, or the topic, or the date on which it is written. If you’re writing a blog post that focuses on one particular event, will readers in the future also be able to get something useful out of it? If you’re writing for a blog specialized in the mating rituals of albino seals, will it contribute more than the specific information strictly related to the topic?
If not, you should rethink the objective of the blog post and consider if you can add more valuable content that is not only a blunt account of the event or a simple series of facts.
To prevent a Nakamura from appearing in your blog posts, you need to analyze before you write.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Who is your client?
- What is the target audience?
- How do people (and blogs) normally behave in this niche regarding the specific topic you’re writing about?
By finding creative ways to deliver effective proof of your skill, you’ll be able to create high-quality posts that stand on their own.
#1: Character Arc
The character arc is the transformation of a character throughout a story, from the very beginning to the very end.
The essence of this concept is remarkably important in freelance blogging.
Each of the blogs you write for has a specific design, a distinctive format and a character of their own, if you will. No blog is identical to the other.
So you need to analyse these characteristics and adapt your writing to them, to adjust to the needs of the client and to the expectations of the target audience.
Besides, a blog post is more than a wall of text. If blogging meant filling up a blog post with words, anybody could do it, but it doesn’t work that way. You are a freelance blogger. You know that every word has its purpose.
There are highs and lows, facts and jokes, headlines and paragraphs, calls to action and moments of personal connection with the reader.
A blog post eases the reader into its content with the fish business, the part that hooks the audience’s attention and shows the audience the area of the post. Then it persuades them with arguments, or beats, organized in a logical manner that is equivalent to a screenwriter’s beat sheet. It goes on to describe and illustrate each issue while avoiding Nakamuras and fridge jokes, and concludes with attention-grabbing blows.
The reader leaves satisfied with a high-quality post, unaware that the blogger had to puke drafts and kill kittens to achieve it.
Yup! All of that is the character arc of your writing.
This, Katniss Bloggerdeen, is what makes you a freelance blogger.
BONUS TERM: The recurring play on words with ‘blog’ and the names of fictional characters is what is known as a running gag. It adds comedic charm and reminds the audience of something you’ve already shared. Make of that what you will, my dear Herbloggonie Granger. (And here’s hoping that wasn’t a Nakamura all along!)
Which of these screenwriting terms will help you the most when you’re writing a blog post? You tell me. 🙂