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Click Bait

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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glorybee
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Click Bait

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 12, 2016 8:56 am

If you spend much time online, especially on popular sites like Facebook and Buzzfeed, you’ve certainly encountered click bait, even if you may not be familiar with the term. Click bait is a screaming headline or blurb that’s written in an attempt to get as many people as possible to click on a link. I just scrolled through a few sites for some examples of click bait, and I found these:

This dog ran in front of a police car and started barking…and wait until you see why!

The internet’s most crucial life hacks, compiled to help you master the universe!

15 life lessons I’ve learned from my pet snail--#4 will shock you!


These are reminiscent of headlines from tabloid magazines, and they try to reel in as many people as possible.

I don’t often click on those sorts of links, but on the few occasions when I have, I’ve noticed that quite frequently, the headline is misleading. The dog running in front of the police car may just be carrying a big stick, when you were expecting a ‘Timmy’s in the well’ situation. The life hack might be a way to get rid of hiccups. Lesson #4 from the pet snail might simply be There’s no place like home.

(I’m getting to the writing lesson soon. Hang in there.)

Here’s the deal with those click-baited pages: Once you’re there, your eyes are bombarded with dozens of additional links to similarly sensational sites—and to advertisements, which are the ultimate goal of the click baiters. They want you to see their ads; that’s their true agenda.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Some writers—particularly nonfiction writers, in this case—use a version of click bait in their Writing Challenge entries (and in other works, as well). They start out with a sensational bit to get their readers’ attention, and then they head immediately into their true agenda—the article that they intended to write all along.

This is particularly tempting in the Writing Challenge, when sometimes the prompts are unusual, and don’t seem to lend themselves, say, to devotionals or Bible studies or theological teaching. Say, for example, that the prompt for some week is Gloppy. A click-baited article might go something like this:

I couldn’t believe it! I was reaching for the bottle of ketchup in the back of the refrigerator, when I felt something gloppy and disgusting. I pulled my hand back and saw that it was dripping with something slimy and green. Oh, gross! I had stuck my hand in a bowl of moldy applesauce that my granddaughter had forgotten—three weeks ago!

We should not forget to tithe … [and then 600 words on tithing follow, with nothing whatsoever to do with ‘gloppy-ness.’]


The person who might write such an article obviously had tithing on her mind, and she was going to write a tithing article no matter what the topic prompt was. The paragraph about moldy applesauce was her click bait, while her agenda was tithing.

There are a few problems with this, some related to the Writing Challenge and some to writing in general.

1. The Writing Challenge is structured around writing to a prompt, not writing to your own agenda. This is one way of stretching you as a writer. So if you’re given a prompt like gloppy or some other prompt that seems difficult to structure a devotional around, you have two choices:
a. Write something else. Go out of your comfort zone and write a bit of fiction, or a 1st person narrative, or something humorous.
b. Find a way to more fully integrate the prompt into your piece. It’s not going to score high for being ‘on topic’ if the topic has been as obviously tossed out and quickly discarded as I just did in the example above.

2. Just as online click bait isn’t playing fair with computer users (it deceives them by its very nature, and then it hooks them into looking at more junk and ads), writing click bait isn’t playing fair with readers, either. It deceives them into thinking they’re going to read one thing, and then shoves something altogether different in front of them. Do you want to be a writer who is known for deception?

3. It’s just not good writing. In one of my post-retirement jobs, I score the writing tests that American high school students have to take to pass their state’s graduation requirements. One of the items on my scoring rubric is unity—a piece of writing is far better if it is united with a theme that runs through the whole piece. If I were to read a piece like the moldy applesauce/tithing one above, I’d have to score it low for unity.

As always, this lesson overlaps with other lessons on related topics. I’ve got a lesson or two on good beginnings that cover the importance of having a hook, and you might want to check them out. It’s necessary to find a balance between click baiting your readers and just giving them something really interesting—and relevant—to make them want to keep reading.

Another lesson relating to this one would be the one about writing on topic.

You might also want to find the lesson on writing devotionals for other ideas on making your devotionals fresh and interesting. You can find that lesson and dozens of others here.

I welcome questions or comments on click-baiting in writing, and as always, if you have ideas for future lessons, feel free to post them here.
Jan Ackerson -- Follow me, friend me, give me a wave!
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Deb Porter
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Re: Click Bait

Postby Deb Porter » Sat Mar 12, 2016 10:54 pm

Great lesson, Jan. And I used a bit of click bait on FB to get people here. :wink:

The thing writers need to remember is that a good hook at the start does not mean tricking your reader to get their attention for the real message. For a reader, nothing feels worse than being cheated out of a good story (the gloopy apple sauce story got my interest). :lol:
Deb
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Breath of Fresh Air Press

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oursilverstrands
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Re: Click Bait

Postby oursilverstrands » Sat Mar 12, 2016 11:05 pm

Thanks, Jan, for introducing that "new" term. As I read your example, I think the bait and switch would not be so egregious if the author had inserted a sentence or two to segue into the main idea.

Something like this, for example: I couldn’t believe it! I was reaching for the bottle of ketchup in the back of the refrigerator, when I felt something gloppy and disgusting. I pulled my hand back and saw that it was dripping with something slimy and green. Oh, gross! I had stuck my hand in a bowl of moldy applesauce that my granddaughter had forgotten—three weeks ago!

Moldy applesauce may have nothing in common with tithing, but for me forgetting to tithe, even for one week, is far worse than what my granddaughter did.

We should not forget to tithe


My example may not be the best, but it's my attempt to suggest a remedy. It would be interesting to see if others could come up with other examples of how to salvage the piece through transition, if the author's error is unintentional :D

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Click Bait

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 12, 2016 11:17 pm

Lillian, I agree 100% that good transitions are one way to salvage a piece that might otherwise be considered click bait. You've given a good example of how that might be done.

However, there are times when no amount of salvaging is possible. The stretch of a connection between the moldy applesauce and tithing is simply too much of a stretch, and it goes to the unity of the piece (my 3rd point). Even if every paragraph touched again on that applesauce, it would be a forced and unnatural illustration.
Jan Ackerson -- Follow me, friend me, give me a wave!
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