How to Create Dramatic Content

Image of Walter and Jesse from Breaking Bad

Do you get a headache from putting together your to-do list?

I sure do, because no matter how much I whittle down my list, there’s always a ton of projects that need to be finished. And that’s when the headache comes on. And stays on until I complete one simple act …

I choose to start on one project.

And when I start that one project, the wall of things to do hasn’t gone away, but there’s a release of tension. And this is similar to the “tension and release” in article writing.

Let’s take a look …

The “tension and release” method of article writing

When you’re writing an article, you’ll often get to a stage where you are giving your prospect or customer advice. And this advice rolls out like a to-do list.

  • Do this
  • Then this
  • Then that
  • And that
  • Oh yes, that too
  • And don’t forget this itty bitty thing.

See that list above? It’s a wall.

And let’s take an example of a real wall that would appear in your article. Let’s take an example from an article on “segmented organic data analysis”.

In this article, the writer talks about the what, why, how, and when of “segmented organic data analysis.” Then it comes to the point where she wants to drive home the actual things you have to do — in effect, the to-do list.

She instantly creates a wall of tension.

As you look at the list below, you feel a wave of overwhelm swamping your brain. But you can’t help yourself. You have to read on. So let’s read and then get to the other side, shall we?

Here’s the writer’s wall:

As you look at your segmented organic data you can dig deeper by analyzing:

  • Landing pages — which pages your visitors arrived on.
  • Bounce rates of those landing pages — percentage of visitors coming to your site who visit just one page and leave.
  • Compare low bounce rate pages with high bounce rate pages. Is there something that stands out … something you could improve to bring down the bounce rates?
  • Do certain pages contribute more to your bottom line than others? Why? Is there something you can take from these pages and apply to the lower converting pages?
  • Next pages — If the landing pages are doing their job, what about the secondary pages? Are these pages moving visitors forward towards the ultimate conversion point?
  • New vs. returning visitors — is there a difference in their conversion rates? Do certain pages work better for new visitors?


OK, so how do you create the “release?”

You simply isolate a single element.

Instead of going on and on, you home in on just ONE element. Which is exactly what the writer does in her article. This is where she lets you jump over the wall and get to the other side.

Instead of giving you a lot of steps, she chooses just one element from the list above. But which element should you choose?

Yes, yes, we know. They’re all so important, but you must choose. Just choose one. The reader doesn’t care which one you choose. All they know is that they’re up to their eyeballs in tension, and you have to break that tension.

So let’s say we chose “bounce rates” and talked about it briefly, then we’ve created a “release.” And this tension and release is great, because it creates enormous drama in your article. Your article stops being just an article and becomes somewhat like a drama series or movie, instead.

Where do you create these “tension and release” moments?

You could do this anywhere in the article, but it’s probably best once you’ve already gone through explaining the how, what, why, when etc. Once you’ve explained the concepts, it’s time to bring out the wall and create the tension.

And then masterfully release it by giving a single way out of the mess.

The tension will bring on the headache.

The release will bring great relief.

And that’s what great movies, TV shows, and yes, great content marketing is about, isn’t it?

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Reader Comments (23)

  1. says

    Hi Sean

    I certainly could concur with many of the elements you mentioned, with list building and how that creates tension. I want to ask you a question regarding creating the release factor.

    Let’s say I have a list post of 10 items, are you saying that is better to flesh out a full article on one of those 10 things and do it for each of them rather than sum them up all in one article ?

    • says

      You could have your cake and eat it too.

      Let’s say you have your list of things to do. Well, almost everyone struggles when they have to do a ton of things. So you put your list down—that’s not a problem. But the next step is to get the reader to move to just ONE big, detailed article.

      So if I were to write an article on “how to increase your prices” and the article has points like this:

      – yada
      – yada
      – yada
      – yada
      – yada

      I’d take one of those yadas and make it into a 800-1500 word article. Really drive home the point. That locks the reader in from the overview of the points to the real meaty article.

  2. says


    I just reviewed this article with a member of my staff, and the question came up: “Can I see an example of this in action?”. I know that Copyblogger has been creating awesome content for years. Is there a ‘best in class’ article that you can point us to?

    – CH

    • says

      Ah, not sure I could do that because I’d have to search through a ton of Copyblogger articles. I will see what I can come up with, though.

      Maybe someone from Copyblogger may be able to find one before I do :)

    • says

      Actually in this article itself, when you’re reading the article, you’ll see that “landing pages” has been highlighted. So there’s a long list, but only one thing has been highlighted and linked.

      Now that link goes to somewhere within Copyblogger. And that (theoretically) should contain 800-1500 words of extreme detail. Well, it won’t because it’s a big topic “landing pages”. But if it were about the “green spot on landing pages” for instance, then it could go into a ton of detail of “why that green spot is important” and “how to create it” etc.

      In short, you’re creating this feeling of:
      – appetizer.
      – main meal.

      But as we do with main meals (in sane restaurants, at least) we eat just ONE main meal. So instead of linking nilly-willy to every possible bullet point, drive the customer to the main meal, having created a need for that main meal with your appetizer.

    • says

      We do a lot of shorter pieces designed to illustrate one single point, and then we tend to link back to them often. So this one, for example, talks about the “call to action” in copywriting:

      And this one talks about how to format your content and make it easier for readers to scan:

      We also have larger, more comprehensive landing pages (which have now been converted into ebooks as part of a free marketing library) like the “landing pages” link that Sean mentioned.

  3. says

    Nice content strategy, i’ll have to give it a try sometime. It seems like most of my writing is set out to ease tension before its created 😉

    Thanks for the awesome post Sean!

  4. says

    Nice. I dig the correlation between article writing and dramatic writing (which is more of my background). I can easily picture each article presenting a hurdle for the reader (hero), and the author (sage/guide) providing a solution to overcoming the single hurdle before ushering them along their path to the next hurdle (article) on the journey; the collection of which becomes a nice block of cornerstone content.

    • says

      You build the wall.
      Then you get them over it.

      It makes you a lot better than most crappy writers on the Internet who simply give you a ton of bullets but nothing meaty at all.

      The goal is not to give me an information overload. Think of it as a meal: appetizer, main meal. Go home.

      Ok, maybe dessert. :)

  5. says

    I like this advice. For my audience there’s a “wall” of things you need to do to have a great career. But the magic bullet, the one simple way out is to start freelancing.

    Am I following you, Sean?

      • says

        Agreed! Writing a blog post is like writing an essay in that regard. It’s best to pick one little topic to flesh out completely rather than sort of overview a big one. If you love a big topic, you have the makings of a series of posts (or a whole blog.)

    • says

      I think of the old example from the dating niche — the process in its entirety is overwhelming, but “how to say hi to a girl” is a smaller, more manageable piece that can be taught with one piece of content.

  6. Kari says

    Hi Sean,
    As I was reading, I just found a few small typos, perhaps, under the section entitled, “OK, so how do you create the release?”

    2nd sentence, “Instead of . . . you hone” As of now, it reads “home.” And then in the same section, 3rd paragraph down, “Yes, yes . . . go to the tail end –
    “and you have (word “to” missing) break that tension.”

    I just happened to catch those tiny errors while reading!
    Happy blogging,

  7. says

    Great article, Sean!

    Truthfully, I gleaned something from the comments posted here as well: you have to be specific with your blog posts in order to create this tension.

    For example, I’m a photographer. I couldn’t just write “How to Take Better Pictures” and reasonably pick just one element from what would be a very large list of to-dos. But writing “How to Take Better Portraits” narrows down the topic, and the to-do list becomes much smaller and manageable to get readers over that wall.

    • Sean says

      Yes. And the narrower you go, the more of an expert you become. E.g. How to take non-fidgety kid portraits.

  8. says

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for pointing out the benefit of having one element in your article instead of just bursting out a big to-do list for the reader. When you put all the elements together, it makes for a great blog post series, ebook, email autoresponder (i.e. free eclass), or whatever sequence you want it to be.

    You can use the tension and release method to hook your reader’s attention and to keep it over a longer period of time. It makes for a pretty good cliffhanger, too :)


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