And Another Thing: Internet Column Writing 101
Posted by Hyatte on 05.15.2001
Writing for the Internet has become the home of bad writers who think they are actually talented.
What’s the most common sentence an Internet surfer says?
“Hey, I can do that!”
Yes, since 80% of us do this for free, and the other 20% barely make enough to buy the latest Backstreet Boys CD, writing for the Internet has become the home of bad writers who think they are actually talented. After all, the only qualifications you really need are the skills to successfully beg a web master to let you write for his site. After that, all you need do is weigh in your very insightful thoughts and present an articulate argument as to why you are the only writer who’s opinions matter.
Hey, I’m all for that! I believe that the ‘Net, in it’s purest form, should be the one place where everyone gets a say. Where everyone is allowed to make their statement and comment on the issues of the day. It’s for free, it’s fun, and you might make a few new friends while you are at it. My God, even idiots deserve to have their voices heard. At the very least, it allows actually talented writers to make fun of something other than WCW.
Unfortunately, presenting a coherent essay, is tough work. Some people can’t make sense on their own no matter how much they rip off other writers. So, with that in mind, I’d thought I would give some help to those wannabes out there by breaking down the most basic premise of an Internet Column and constructing a “How To” Guide for anyone who’s every dreamed of doing what Gods like me do every week, creating the typical Internet Column, yet including YOUR own personality into it. After all, what fun is it to write for the Internet for free and not getting famous for it? Part of the charm in this game is that YOU become a name people recognize and flock to each week a new column by you comes out? It’s what we all live for. That and beer.
So, fire up the printers, kids. I’m going to show you, step by step, how to become an “Internet Expert” and maybe, just maybe, an “Internet Star”!
Perhaps the most important aspect of being a column writer. Whether you choose to use your real name, a pen name, your initials, or your last name only, you must have one in order to get people talking about you. Quite frankly, there will never come a day when someone on your site’s message board will say, “You know, anonymous really does great stuff!”. You simply need an identifiable name, people. Just don’t make the mistake that someone else did and refer to yourself as some sort of domesticated pet. Then you would look stupid.
Every Internet column needs a snappy “home title”. This is mostly thanks to the rampant overabundance of columns out there. Every site, or at least the most known ones, employs a team of columnists to offer the readers fresh daily opinions to go along with the news that usually is culled from other sites anyway. Yes, a solid team of opinion writers is the most important part of any website. They all have titles for their columns that tell the reader that if they enjoyed what the writer wrote last week, he now has something new this week. It is important for the new writer to get a title for his column and stick with it. It helps them stand out from the pack.
The Base Title will only attract the reader’s notice. You need a Subject Title to lure them in. It can be vague, ironic, quirky, referential, or even straight forward. It has to be something interesting enough for the reader to think, “Hmm, now this looks interesting” and click on in. The entire theme of your column must center around the title, so the reader doesn’t get feel ripped off after reading. Well, chances are that he or she will feel ripped off anyway, but at least they won’t feel mislead by a Subject Title that had no relation to what’s in the column.
Some websites don’t ask for it, but if your new website does, you should create a teaser for placement under your Title. The teaser is a one or two sentence “lure” into selling your column. Try to keep it vague, but detailed enough to give the reader an idea as to what the column’s topic will be. It should go hand in hand with the Subject Title, but while the Subject Title is both eye catching and interesting, the teaser should be more straightforward.
Okay, you got the reader to click into your column and start reading. How should you keep them from going away mid-way through?
Your job of getting the reader to check you out is not over yet. These are busy people here. They aren’t going to waste time if you ramble on for pages before making your point. What you need to do is grab them early and refuse to let go until they read every word you’ve written. This is what the opener is for. To present yourself to the reader, and then explain what this week’s subject will be and what your objective is.
First, you introduce yourself. Remind them of who you are and the name of this column. This way, there will be no mistaking whose expert opinions the reader will be made privy to. It’s your column. It’s your name. You are about to teach them something.
Then, use a Bookend. A single sentence that begins the column. It tells the reader from what point you are going to speak about. It gives them an overall sense of where you will go from. It’s basically the starting point. Make it strong enough to keep them reading.
Next, you must discuss why you picked this topic. Since you want to be considered an “expert”, it is vital that you convey to the reader that something is wrong with the subject and it needs repairing. Do research. By that I mean scour the other web sites and see what other people are bitching about. Of course, you must not suggest that you actually did check out what everyone else thinks, the concept must be presented as your idea and your idea alone! After all, you also have the responsibility of making your website the only website that matters. You can’t do that and admit to being influenced by writers from other sites at the same time.
The opener can be as long or as short as you want. Over time, once you have established a base audience, you can use the opener to reflect off-topic views and send the very important “Shout Outs” to your other homies. This is important for you when establishing your “celebrity status”. It is also vital for you to use the opening paragraph (or single sentence, or series of brief sentences) to prove to the audience that you are not some “loser” who sits at his computer for fourteen hours a day posting messages and chatting with your friends. You must make it known that you have a life outside of the Internet, and the life is better than the readers.
After setting up your topic, and establishing a bit of your personality in the opening note, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and actually dive into the promised topic.
Okay, this is it. This is where you really make yourself stand out. Here we go. This is where you put your opinions on “paper” and make them stick in the reader’s mind. This is where your expert opinions will be made and where you will show the reader something they haven’t seen before. This is where you influence some one’s opinion with your very own.
I can’t really advice you on what to say actually, but I can help you with how to present what you say.
• Bullet points are very popular. Some like to go with the popular “-” mark format. Others use different colored font or bold lettering to establish individual points. The bullet format comes in very convenient when you decide to phone in a column with a Random Thoughts package for the week. Bullet points or it’s kin help make you point without crafting sensible paragraphs. It’s an extremely handy way for the novice who hates the hard job of actual writing, yet loves being a Web Celeb.
• Some column topics could use a little backstory. Some time spent on the history of the subject at hand. This is an effective tool used to show the reader that you know a little something about wrestling before “Austin 3:16”, or at least, you know who Vince Russo is and how he turned the WWF around before bombing out in WCW. I’m afraid, people will have trouble respecting you if they do not think you know your history, even a little. Of course, if a bit of research is too much for you to handle, the bullet point format will take cover up for your lack of knowledge quite easily. Mind you, you will one day have to show that you no a bit more on the overall subject if you want to keep writing about it and be taken seriously, but you’ll have time to work on that.
• Use your thesaurus for help with big words. If none is handy, then take a guess and hope no one will notice. To be honest, they probably won’t.
• Beware the overuse of Dramatic Single Sentence Paragraphs. While they are the ultimate way to sell the importance of your words, and present a mini-cliffhanger to entice the reader to keep reading, too much of it makes you look dependent on them. The reader catches on that there is too much sizzle in your column, and not enough steak.
• Be strong with your opinions. Convince the reader that what you say makes sense. Makes perfect sense. Tell them that your ideas are the only way to go. If you are wishy washy with what you say, then no one will take you seriously. Don’t be a Scaia. Pick a side and defend it
Okay, now that you’ve gotten your points across in a reasonable fashion, it’s time to take it all home.
With the meat of your column out of the way, now is the time to use your other Bookend. Be it amusing, ironic, or open ended, the closing Bookend works with the beginning Bookend in encapsulating the text. Now the reader knows what your thoughts were and it makes it easier for them to reflect on your wisdom and decide whether they agree with it. The single sentence capper helps put a button on things, yet opens the door for further columns and/or speculation.
Wrap things up with a brief farewell. Since you don’t want everyone knowing that you’ll be sitting at your computer constantly checking the message boards and your e-mail for instant reaction, announce that you are off to do things off-line. Be nonchalant about it. Treat it as just “business as usual”. It’s important not to sound like your lying.
Then, send out one last “inside message” to a fellow poster or site mate. It will create a sense of unity at your site and make the reader want to be a part of it. It helps sell yourself as a “star” too.
Your column is almost finished. Just one more small item left.
The Sign Off
As important as your column title, the sign off is the last thing the reader sees before he goes away. It’s the cherry on top of the sundae that is your column, and the sundae that is your world. It tells the people that the thrill ride is over, and now they must wait a wee before they get your words and insight again.
There are many kinds of sign-offs you can use. A simple name is effective, yet boring. A topic related clichйd farewell gives the reader something to remember, and relate to. A one line bit of self-effacement tells the reader that you take none of this too seriously. There are many kinds of sign-offs to pick from. Pick the one that works best for you! Just make sure it’s something unique enough so that you will be instantly identified by it over time.
To further help your introduction to Internet Column Writing, I have included a sample column which employs all the rules outlined above. Please use this as a sample and do not cut and paste this as your very own column. I truly doubt the Torch will accept this.
P-Bomb's Thoughts: The WWF Sucks And Here's Why
Whazzup! I'm P-Bomb and here's another P-Bomb's Thoughts
It has become painfully clear to me that the WWF has lost it's edge.
I know, I know, you're thinking "No way! I can't believe it! The WWF is on a red hot streak! How can you possibly say that it's lost it's edge??"
I realize this'll be tough to swallow, but I have clear, concrete proof.
Vince McMahon has grown lazy and placent. Since he bought WCW, he feels that he is the absolute King of the Wrestling World. There is absolutely no one who can topple him. So why should he even care anymore? He thinks he can put on whatever he wants and people will watch.
It's a bad, horrible, terrifying idea. Me and my friends were discussing it while we were getting ready to go pick up some strippers for an orgy, and we came up with some awesome ideas on how Vince can improve his company.
And perhaps improve himself.
So, here are some great gimmick ideas that will definitely turn the WWF around!
-Turn Austin face again! The heel gimmick isn't working. After just a couple of weeks it is blatantly obvious. No need to give it any chance. The writing's on the wall. It sucks.
-Bring Back Rocky! I know he sucks, you know he sucks. But the company needs a face right now. After his Mummy Returns movie dries out, he'll be aching to come back and "lay the smackdown on..." and all those other retarded catchphrases. Vince should lift the suspension and bring him right back.
-Make HHH lose. The guy wins too much. He's boring on the microphone. Use him to elevate some mid-carders like Benoit and Chris Jericho, but especially BENOIT!
-Elevate Benoit. He's everyone's favorite wrestler. He rules. Give him his shot!
-Take away HHH's influence. Geeze, everyone knows that he wields total power in the WWF! He sucks. Vince should tell him to shut up and go away.
-Bring in WCW! Hire Flair, Goldberg, Nash, and Hogan to invade the WWF and let's get this big cross promotional war going! It's time!
Just a few ideas that will return the WWF to greatness.
Or just maybe, it will help greatness return to the WWF?
I have to go spend time with the girlfriend now.
Hey Brian6969, you were right about our mutual flame quest. He still sucks.
Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
There. Everything you need to know about writing your very own Internet column. Most importantly, it’s everything you need to know about becoming an Internet Star!
Feel free to print this out and use it for your own purposes.
Or, even better, print this out, burn it and eat the ashes.
Because Lord knows, I have enough people ripping my style off.
This is Hyatte too