How to Write Clickbait

How to Write Clickbait

I thought I knew everything about writing blog posts. But what I found out really surprised me.

Sound familiar? These days we're surrounded by enticing links and click-bait articles. These articles are so, so good at making you want to click and read more. A lot of the time, these articles are pretty darn manipulative; you find out after clicking that there's no big surprise after all. I always feel a little used and annoyed when I click one article and discover how utterly conventional it is. And yet, I can't help admiring how effective these taglines and openings to articles really are. They've won my interest and my attention fair and square in a highly competitive world.

Today I'm arguing that good creative writers can learn something from clickbait. The first line, or the first paragraph, of your story needs to have that enticing element -- and it needs to have the built-in promise that clickbait articles are so good at making.

First: entice. A good opening sentence already has a built-in problem inside it. We need a good problem statement that tells us conflict is boiling. Too many stories begin with a character waking up and having breakfast -- boring! What if your story began with -- "She never expected to be a lion tamer, but life was full of surprises." That doesn't mean every story has to be about lion tamers - but it should be about something that is clearly intriguing and has immediate questions or conflicts around it.

Second: promise. The other thing clickbait articles do super well is that they provide the promise of a good story. They give what a teacher of mine once called a "Yes, but" statement. They give an intriguing hint of a world, then tell you that if you just read on, you'll find your expectations completely subverted. That's what every good story should do -- it must make the promise early on that there is a good story here if you only take the time to read it.