Today’s guest post is written by Jill Pollack

Reality TV is Giving Us Mental Whiplash

I caught my college professor friend Susan watching one of “The Real Housewives” shows.

I wanted to call her on it but before I knew it, I was sucked in, my head aching from the quick cut editing and crazy camera movements.

Ah, the guilty pleasure of reality television shows… they can be a fun diversion and we know they don’t require our full attention.

Wait. Stop.

Don’t require our full attention? When did that become a good thing?

While some may argue the manipulative editing works well on reality shows, I argue this type of entertainment is making us lazy. It’s like eating the stale, day-old donut on the counter because we’re too lazy to walk around the corner for a yogurt.

As consumers it is up to us to choose our mental stimulation. But as content creators, we have a job to do. That job is to “engage” our audience, not manipulate them. I tell my students a good story is like a conversation in which the reader should participate. But to do this, we have to give the reader words that will engage her/his mind in a more full way.

Reality TV producers know it’s the tension—real or manufactured—that keeps viewers wondering what will happen next. I’m forever trying to convince business writers this idea of “tension” is one they should embrace as fiction authors do. Not through snarkiness. But through solid ideas and good writing.

But this good writing must also give the reader a reason to keep on reading. If I’m just talking “at” you or throwing around facts and figures, then there is no room for true conversation. But if I tell you a story in which there is a problem to be solved or a goal that must be obtained, then suddenly writer and reader become a team, both racing to a finish line.

Even better, the reader can add her story to the conversation and now a true relationship is developing. (Feel free to do that in the comments below!)

So I challenge all of you communicators out there to think more like a fiction writer and less like a judge on Project Runway. Here are a few tips:

Be clear about the conversation.

Quick changes of subject or diversionary ramblings often mean the author hasn’t quite wrapped her arms around what she’s writing. Be a ruthless editor of your own work. Not to cut down word count. Rather, to tighten your argument.

Don’t shy away from tension, but don’t manufacture it either.

There’s no need to offer writing’s equivalent of a quick cut. All stories have an inherent conflict: Good and Bad, Black and White, Boxers or Briefs. Every subject has its opposite. That tension makes for good stories and it also makes for good thinking. Present both sides of the argument to enhance the conversation and give your reader a reason to hang around.

Incite the imagination!

Don’t underestimate your readers. They are up to the challenge of a compelling story that takes its time to make its point. Content should exploit this opportunity. Not by being long necessarily, but by not shying away from complex themes presented in full.

Now, hand me that remote. I hear there’s a new episode of Shark Tank.

Jill Pollack (on Twitter @jillwritergrrl) is the founder and director of StoryStudio Chicago: The center for writing and writers. She teaches writing to both creative writers and business writers.

She will co-host this one-day conference, ContentJam: The Secrets of Content Marketing, on June 14 in Chicago.

*Photo credit: Patty Michels