I'm trying to decide whether or not to agree with something Brian Clark wrote over at Copyblogger:
If someone asks you what's for dinner, you can stick with the substance:
Tonight we're having pasta for dinner.
Or you can add a bit of craft and style to make it more tangible:
Tonight we'll enjoy a dinner of tender linguini, topped with a homemade marinara sauce featuring vine-ripened tomatoes, fragrant basil, and fresh oregano straight from our garden, accented with just a hint of garlic and red wine flavoring.
On the one hand, yes, the second version is much more compelling.
On the other hand, imagine yourself as a teenager asking you mom what's for dinner and getting that kind of answer. You'd think she was a space alien.
It wouldn't seem quite as bizarre if my wife gave me that kind of answer, but I'd still wonder whether the furnace was leaking carbon monoxide or something. And if I just wanted to know whether to expect pasta or stew, I'd prefer the first version, because it's quicker and more to the point.
That's blogging advice you've probably heard a million times. Don't try to be someone you're not. Would you give the second answer? I didn't think so.
But, On the Other Hand...
Everyday people are boring. Scratch that. People are interesting. But everyday interaction is boring.
Can you imagine how dull it would be if you filmed a typical family eating dinner and put the recording on TV? Would anyone watch? Maybe if it aired after 4:00am when they're so tired that watching paint dry is a surreal and compelling experience. But not during prime time.
In fact, watch a show during prime time, and imagine how dull it would be if the actors acted like real people.
- Cut out most of the snappy comments.
- Cut out the over-the-top reactions.
- Cut out the parts where they say things for the benefit of the audience where a real person would mumble a one-word response.
- Cut out the parts where a conversation that would last 15 seconds in reality lasts 15 minutes.
- Cut out the parts where somebody's acting so idiotic that, if that's how stupid they really were, they'd never in a million years have the relationships and comforts they enjoy.
Imagine going to the theater and watching the performers act like real people. Sloppy posture. Voices that don't project. No large gestures.
And yet, when we watch TV or a play, we don't sit there thinking "this is so unrealistic. Real people don't act that way." Well, maybe we do, but only when things get really out of hand.
The fact is, just about everything we see in most types of performances would be completely over-the-top for most people in real life.
Two Ways to Engage Your Audience
On the one hand, people connect with others who are like them. If you're pretending to be someone you're not, eventually people are going to see through the facade, and the connection is going to break.
On the other hand, people are engaged by the extraordinary. Run-of-the-mill may be comfortable, but it's not engaging.
So, which way should you go?
I suggest taking a middle road. Take advantage of the fact that performances are expected to be amplified versions of reality. Be a little more colorful than you generally are in face-to-face conversation. As long as you don't overdo it, you'll come across as a naturally colorful person.
I believe that most people would like to be more colorful than they generally dare to be. They're a little dull because they're afraid to let their true selves out.
And sometimes we're a little dull because simply because it's a waste of energy to always act like you're on-stage.
If either is true of you, then maybe by ratcheting your performance up a little, you're actually being more real.
So yeah. Be yourself on your blog. But be your party self.
When somebody asks what's for dinner, tell them "we're having linguini with homemade marinara sauce that I made with tomatoes, basil, and fresh oregano from my garden."