One surprising secret genius hack the experts swear by for writing buzzy internet list stories
For writers desperately seeking readers, internet list stories are the way to go.
“Ten Signs Your Wife Will Knife You Tonight” gets way more views, reads and ad revenue than the 2017 National Magazine Award winners that worked for a year with long days, nights and weekends on their groundbreaking journalism, including top awardee Mother Jones and its gripping investigative story, “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.”
A Washington PR firm quotes Jack Shepherd, self-styled “Editorial Director, God King of BuzzFeed,” which dubs itself “the best place to post, find and share the hottest content on the web,” offering this timeless insight:
“The Odyssey is 24 chapters. You could call that 24 Chapters About Odysseus. That’s, like, a really great list. Really top notch. Really, really viral. Super viral.”
This is no joke. Shepherd, apparently lacking rudimentary human shame, self-awareness or respect for legacy — or maybe just being buzzy — was happy to be quoted denigrating Homer (the epic poet, not the Simpson). Shepherd is now my new favorite Millennial.
Best of all, Shepherd captures my “Seven Most Eye-Rolling Internet Writing Superlatives”:
4. Top notch
5. Really, really
7. Super viral
But don’t assume these buzzy list pieces are a cinch to write. It’s easy to make the lists. The challenge is what to leave off.
Consider the “Four Best Lists Ever” and what the writers had to cut:
1. The Ten Commandments
Thou shalt not blame one’s own flatulence at Sabbath worship services on one’s neighbor.
Thou shalt not fail after using a host’s commode to look back to ensure a clean flush, or rummage his medicine cabinet for his prescription anxiety relievers, or clear sinuses into his decorative guest towels.
Thou shalt not call others stupid on social media in posts that evidence ignorance of basic grammar, spelling, syntax, usage and logic.
Thou shalt not avoid Chick-fil-A just because of its religious anti-LGBTQ stuff, for its sandwiches are tasty.
Thou shalt not “take it out” even if thou shalt be a movie or financial mogul, politician or entertainer who is so powerful or hilarious as to feel comfortable or entitled to do so.
2. The Seven Deadly Sins
Failure to use turn signals
Audible public flatulence
Screaming with laughter at quiet restaurants
Unilaterally switching a dating situation to “just friends”
Still paying for groceries with a check
GOP tax reform
Discarding your dog’s poop baggie in a neighbor’s trash can
Uber app saying Hyundai driver is 3 minutes away and after 20 minutes saying he’s 30 minutes away
Taking it out unless explicitly invited — optimally in writing — to do so
3. Disney’s Seven Dwarfs
Happy Due To Obamacare-Covered Xanax
Doc Denying Medicare Patients
Sneezy But It’s Just Autumn Leaf Mold
Bashful Who Is Just ENFP So Just Deal With Me Being Me
4. U.S. Constitutional Bill of Rights
The right to use your gas-powered leaf blower at 7 am
The right to insult, outrage or tell people off without repercussions
The right to complain about government while depending on it
The right to complain about taxes while clueless about the benefits from other people’s taxes
The right to choose your own facts to argue a preconceived view and reject the facts of those who disagree
The right to arm everyone with semiautomatic weapons and then send thoughts and prayers when whack-jobs get them and mass-kill children
The right to wallow in super viral BuzzFeed list pieces, Fox bloviators who feed our fears and Russia-corrupted Facebook feeds instead of doing the work our Founders asked to be well-informed citizens so that our democratic republic could survive and thrive.
Sorry, I just violated the first rule of writing buzzy list stories: Don’t get political.
Stick with fun and useful stuff, like, “Ten Ways To Avoid Being Knifed By Your Wife.”
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer