The blog, as we know it, is a deeply flawed platform for discussing complex ideas. It emphasizes quick bites of text and an obsession with newness. With a little modification, however, I happen to believe that a blogger can create works of great relevance if they carefully pay attention to the organization of what they are trying to say. One method for accomplishing this is the simple device that I call a “Blog Series”.
Blog entries are typically 250-400 words in length, a screenful or two of text that can be absorbed in one glance. That can be pushed to about 800 words or so in the hands of a skilled writer who can keep their readers engaged, but little more. A complex topic that requires new perspectives can barely be set up in a length like that without the text becoming so dense it becomes poetry – a noble goal, but one that is unlikely to generate a lot of readers.
These limits are constricting, but can be very useful in forcing the writer to adhere strongly to the unity of their work, which is to say making sure that each entry is about one thing only. The tools of a blog can then be used to weave smaller pieces into one coherent whole, a series, where each piece has its own structure, meaning, and use.
Good examples of this can be found all over the internet. Impact Journalism, for example, begins with one high-impact story that is followed through a daily “drumbeat” of articles that keep reader’s attention on the topic while adding a little. The follow-up, especially with people and agencies in power to do something, defines Impact Journalism, so one blog entry can never be enough.
There is little new in the idea of making a larger story into a serial. Novels that first appeared as serials in magazines include most of the Sherlock Holmes books, Crime and Punishment, and in recent times Bonfire of the Vanities. Telling a story as a serial is a time honored tradition.
The problem is that the layout software we use to present these works emphasizes newness, putting the most recent stories on top. The “latest” is what people see first rather than the carefully crafted logic of a properly developed story. Tags help, but any serial is going to be presented backwards and the reader is asked to hunt for the beginning. I have yet to find a good way around this.
I have five serial works on this blog that stand alone. I find this format essential to exploring my central topic – that the connections between people, ideas, and institutions is much more dynamic than any of them separately and therefore more useful for describing a changing situation. By linking together stories with their own unity, like the chapters of a book, they can work together to explore connections in greater detail. They are all presented at the end in their correct order as examples.
These “Blog Series” pieces have fallen into two types. The first are the ones that gradually developed without a strong arc of storyline at the beginning. The first of these was the Generations series which explores the massive generational shift that is beginning to define our politics (and is often missed in the mainstream). I had to follow that one through the election, meaning I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going when I started. The second, from May 2008, were some musings on what might happen to the Urban Core as the changes in our world concentrated there.
Since that time, I’ve paid more attention to the arc of the series to allow for a more satisfactory and definite conclusion. In November 2008 I riffed off of Obama’s call for a More Perfect Union. In January 2009 I thought my knowledge of how to cope with the declining economy might be useful, so I combined it into the series On the Margin.
There is a distinct advantage of writing longer pieces as a Blog Series beyond bite-sized chunks that avoid eyestrain. Each section invites separate commentary, which in my case made the conclusions stronger. The interaction of the basic blog format is a great strength that should be encouraged whenever possible.
The key to a Blog Series is telling a story with great unity even when the topic is vast and difficult to approach. It’s nothing more than a tool to greater relevance for the blog world, which is something I always encourage. It requires more organization and planning than a simple rant, but it greatly improves the quality. If you have a meaty topic that is outside the mainstream, I encourage you to give it a try.
These are the Blog Series on Barataria, in their correct order: