Your new genre: writing web pages

Writing web pages is a world apart from writing fiction. It's a new genre . . . one with

  • lots of white space
  • short sentences and paragraphs. . . and fragments
  • headlines
  • visual text . . . bold . . . italic . . . colored words
  • ellipses (. . .) rather than commas . . . periods . . . or semicolons
  • bulleted lists (like this one)

When people hit your website, they're skimming . . . not reading. They're looking for facts. When they click into your web page, they're not after fine prose . . . they're after information . . . and they want it fast.

If your page doesn't deliver immediately . . . click . . . they're gone. You've lost them.

It's not a new problem . . . think walking into Barnes & Noble looking for a read.

A novel's cover grabs your eye. You pick it up. You read the pitch on the back cover. Maybe the blurb on the author . . . and the review snippets of praise. Thumb chapter one. Then you buy . . . or more often, slip it back and try another.

Same process writing web pages. Only now it's lightening quick. Click in . . . skim . . . click out.


It ain't fine fiction:
How to write an easy-to-read web page

You'll find a short synopsis right up front on every novelist's website. That's because we're used to the harsh reality of getting fiction published . . . the 60-second pitch toagents at writers' conferences . . . the one-paragraph synopsis in a query letter.

But a webpage . . . make it appear even shorter . . . think Lilliputian.

Remember how I did it for Soda Springs on my homepage:

Soda Springs is a young man's quest to bring Martin Luther King's civil rights message to his hometown in outback Colorado. Idealism smacks head-on into . . .

• prejudice • discrimination • hardball politics • protest • violence

And the civil rights battles get muddled by . . .

• love • sex • rejection • redemption

In a nutshell, Soda Springs is a tangled love story set in the forgotten Mexican-American civil rights movement of the Sixties . . . interwoven with the Martin Luther King-led 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama, and MLK's famed "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington.

Now, compare the above to my original pitch, right off the back cover of Soda Springs:

Soda Springs is a young man's quest to bring Martin Luther King's civil rights message to his hometown in outback Colorado. Idealism smacks head-on into prejudice, discrimination, hardball politics, protest, and violence. And the civil rights battles get muddled by love, sex, rejection, redemption. In a nutshell. Soda Springs is a tangled love story set in the forgotten Mexican-American civil rights movement of the Sixties, interwoven with the Martin Luther King-led 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama, and MLK's famed "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington.

Same words . . . a short paragraph, too. But, man, it's impossible to skim.


Hey, wait a sec:
Let's take a closer look here

In reality, I made only one tiny change in that paragraph . . . I added bullets to highlight the words that evoke an emotional response.

You noticed each word, too, didn't you? • prejudicediscriminationhardball politics . . . Thought so. Makes a big difference, doesn't it?

For even more emphasis, I could have used a bulleted list. I didn't. It seemed like overkill.

  • prejudice
  • discrimination
  • hardball politics
  • protest
  • violence
  • love
  • sex
  • rejection
  • redemption

Or, I could have used a boldface prejudice, discrimination, etc. or even a bright red prejudice, discrimination, etc. Those options are open to us in writing web pages. Here again, in this case it seemed like overkill. And it looks too much like a high school textbook.

As for short sentences . . . fragments . . . ellipses (. . .): not so much in this example: the first sentence and last paragraph are still too long. I'll work on them some more.

On the other hand, take another look at the second section of our homepage. Notice the short sentences . . . short paragraphs . . . use of bullets and again . . . Mr. Ellipsis.


Now, on to another nifty website writing trick:

Unlike the printed page, we aren't space-limited in writing web pages. We can add a paragraph here and there and not have to worry about running onto the next page.

So, I added a paragraph to open my pitch . . .

(Soda Springs) is an out-of-the-way fictional farm town . . . acres of verdant fields . . . a spectacular mountain range . . . but a poverty-stricken barrio in a town fragmented by its Mexican-American struggle against a history of racism.

It sets up the pitch better . . . plus, it makes liberal use of our new-found friend, Mr. Ellipsis.


And a final note:

Writing web pages gives us some cool tools we don't use in a published novel. Not only bold and color . . . but pulsating images . . . clever graphics . . . smiley faces . . . videos . . . and who knows what else. My advice? Go easy. The idea is to get the skimmers to pause a moment . . . and read what we're offering . . . not entertain them with pinwheels or jumping jacks.

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