Struggling with structure

The struggle to find a “voice” – a balance between content/topics and form – continues, but I may have found a workable solution.


The Problem

OK, to review the facts:

  1. I blog primarily to work out ideas for myself.
  2. However, having people read and comments on what I’m writing is something I’d like as well. External viewpoints act as a “check” against my own thoughts, bring different ideas and perspectives to the table, and – I’ll be honest – writing material that people find useful and/or enjoyable would be somewhat of an ego boost.
  3. The problem lies in the fact that I want to try and write exhaustively about topics because of point #1, which leads to extremely long blog posts. This is at odds with articles on the web in general, and blogs in particular. Readers typically want short, concise articles, dealing with a single point. My style conflicts with point #2

However, I think there is a niche in the “blogosphere” for dealing with complex topics and detailed analysis – or that such a niche can be created.

Potential, unsatisfactory solutions

Until recently, there seems to have been only a few options, none of them satisfactory.

  1. Continue to write in my “rambling essay” style. This would allow me to exhaustively explore a topic, but would tax reader’s patience and reduce the number of people who are willing to comment and discuss.
  2. Write short, concise, single-topic entries which would only explore a single facet of the topic. This would make topics accessible, but make it difficult to treat topics exhaustively.
  3. Create a new style based on the essay outline. Points would be be presented in bullet-point form with brief bridging paragraphs. This would allow me to place a lot of information in a short space. This would be somewhat of an “experimental style” which many people would be unfamiliar with. It would be more readable than the first approach, but less readable than the second.

Breaking the Essay down

However, I’ve realized something about long works: long written works are already subdivided by their internal organization. Any high school student is familiar with the essay outline.

A well written essay consists of an information hierarchy: simple points are built up into complex statements, statements are strung together in arguments or descriptions (depending on the type of the essay), and description/arguments are arranged in the essay’s “macro-structure”, with bridging text tying the sections together.

Example Outline
1. Introduction

     Introductory statements
     Thesis statement
     Introduce supporting ideas

2. Body

     2.1 First supporting idea

          Transition, topic sentence
          Discussion, examples, and analysis
          Conclusion

     2.2 Second supporting idea

          Transition, topic sentence
          Discussion, examples, and analysis
          Conclusion

     2.3 Third supporting idea

          Transition, topic sentence
          Discussion, examples, and analysis
          Conclusion

3. Conclusion

     Transition, statement reflecting back on thesis
     Restate key points
     Ending statement that provokes thought

Almost any level of the essay, with some work, can stand alone.

Individual points (arguments or facets of exposition) become individual posts, which are then linked together in a posting series. “High level” sections such as the introduction and conclusion sections becomes small “micro-posts” by themselves.

Essay

Note that mapping of essay sections to posts is not direct. There are some adaptations, like a brief recapitulation of the entire series at the beginning of each post, and a “stand alone” conclusion at the end. This allows each post to stand as complete unto themselves.

This structure tends to mimic the hierarchal nature of the outline, but still leaves the material in “bite sized chunks”.

Advantages of “micro-posts” in a “macro-form”

This approach of making micro-posts which are then composited into larger organizational structures has several advantages.

  • It allows a subject to be treated exhaustively, by allowing the overall outline of the article series to be as complex as the needs of the topic dictate.
  • It creates microcontent: single topic, individually linkable, posts. This allows readers to use the content in two ways: either as part of the larger series structure, or short stand-alone comments/descriptions of highly specific topics. Individual points are also more usable by external blogs/sites, which increases the likelihood of external links to the blog. Most importantly, it makes for more accessible writing which is more likely to be discussed and/or commented on.
  • It allows for the reuse of points: a block of exposition describing a specific topic can conceivably be used in more than one “essay series”.
  • It allows for more than one “series” to be worked on at once, as opposed to composing one monolithic “essay” at a time. While the overall outline of each series needs to be developed before any writing commences, development of the sections of multiple “series essays” can be done in parallel.
  • It is a form which my diagrammatic/formulaic way of working out ideas fits well.

The number of posts goes up, as one outline becomes many posts rather than a large single article. The amount of writing work goes up slightly as each post has to be written to be totally self-sufficient, but I think it is an acceptable trade-off.

Limits

No one form is universally applicable.

What is described here is a good form for lengthy exposition, analysis, and reasoned logical arguments. It is not a good style for personal anecdotes, brief commentary on other articles and resources, or short stories – all of which would be better in a more open prose style. However such material tends to be quite a bit shorter and would thus fit within a single blog posting.

Conclusion

This may not be the best style for everyone, and may not be the style I use for all entries, but it does seem to balance the two “conflicting” needs that are driving the blog.


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One Response to Struggling with structure

  1. SilverTiger says:

    Writers have many different motives but readers also have different motives. Some wish to learn from knowledgeable people, some to be drawn into debate and some simply to be amused. Whatever method a writer employs, s/he will only “capture” a few of the total number of readers.

    Writing gurus advise “Know your market and write for it”, sound advice if you are seeking to profit in some way (money, renown, etc.) from your writing but it makes the writing secondary to the goal. What if the goal is the writing itself?

    I think it is then “writing as art” as opposed to “writing for profit”. Art succeeds insofar as it is true to itself. I think if you “write as art” you have to find the style that suits what you are trying to do rather than worry about how many people are going to read it.

    If how many people read it is important then pursue that goal and adapt the style accordingly. I don’t think the issue can be fudged. A plane has wings; a boat has a keel: each vehicle is designed to be fit for its purpose.

    Email SilverTiger

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