To totally mangle McLuhan is the message? Does it control the message? What is the message?

I will unfairly pick on one story in my assertion that for a lot of what people publish on medium- the entire arc of the story is contained within a click bait title. And this has a lot of tie-ins for the way people are writing about twitter’s new plans. A tweet is still a tweet is still 140 characters short (about the length of something like “Twenty Ways to Lifehack Yourself And Love What You Do While Traveling in Tibet”) and what ever it links to or opens 10,000 more characters elsewhere on twitter, pretty much ends up at the same place as a title.

Coming up very soon in my Western 106 Not a Course is a part of DS106 and elsewhere I always enjoy– asking people to think about the shape of a story as demonstrated by Kurt Vonnegut (deftly using the technology of… a chalkboard)

This movement from good to bad to good, and all kinds of variations is what pulls us into the story. And very important, as he is describing Cinderella’s post midnight fall, is that the character in a story usually ends up not as low on the curve as where they started — and most often, way off the G scale (“infinite joy”).

This cycle also can be wrapped into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (recently well re-framed at brainpickings). A key element of the journey, or the ups and down of Vonnegut’s curve is the journey from the normal world into an extra-ordinary one, and the return back– and that even if we return to the same world we started in, we are ever changed.

Now I emphasis a lot when I teach storytelling, and just blogging in general, that you should never publish something with a dull title. I comment quickly on students who post something like “Assignment Five” or “My Audio Story”.

A good title is everything. It’s the headline, the teaser, the way your work is represented elsewhere in a flood of other stories, often the title is your only little bob above the waters.

I cannot even start writing until I have a good title. But that’s just me.

And that’s what goes on on medium, in a stream of social media, and how stories come in the inbox, people do that microsecond scan at a title, make a click / no click decision.

So a good title is a good idea. Anywhere. But when I read a lot of stories (not just on medium, but it seems that way) what I find is … there’s not much more revealed that was not in the title.

I found one this morning, and I use this again, as an example of a phenomena, not as a literary criticism of the work. Who the ***** am I to call a kettle black? This story has over 1000 shares, more than anything I have done (as if shares are that important??)


It’s got a lot going in the title. Two things you do not expect together. A cat. Everyone on the internet loves cats.

If I get the shape of it, its pinned to:

  • Parents get kid a cat.
  • Cat disappears in house. Meows are heard.
  • Various repeated steps to locate cat in hidden spaces under floor. Sledge Hammer used to open spaces, selfie stick kind of used to look in holes.
  • An external force is brought in (fire captian, at least a “she”) but hardly provides any Obi Wan Kenobe influence. In fact, this character does little for the story.
  • Cat walks out of hole in its own

Is it a story? To me, it’s pretty much a Facebook status message. “This happened, then this happened, then that.”

To me the story goes no farther than the title. The Vonnegut shape is kind of flat and low amplitude; Kurt’s head sort of sags at the flatline.


What extra-ordinary world was entered and then returned from? What was the lesson learned (do what the animal adoption agency suggests)? What about the cat’s perspective?

To me there was a clever title… and not much more revealed. The extra 10,000 characters worth in the new twitter are really not even essential, because everything is in the title. The title is meant to be easily shared in social media. The title is not only a draw to the story; it is in fact the entire story.

This seems commons in medium. Does the environment itself encourage this, forge this? Is it what is seen as the norm? There are exceptions, like stuff Paul Ford writes (I gave up trying to find an example, because the stream of medium intermixes and considers equivalent, long thoughtful pieces and short comments and cool web links. Sigh. The frigging stream.

Good writing rises above the medium (and It can exist anywhere. Take some time to read Dan Cohen’s For What It’s Worth: A Review of the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin”. The title draws you in, but does not give away the story.

A good story, IMHO should take a reader through a journey, and often to a place not give away in the title.

What ever happened to surprise? In the microstory world of and Facebook Instant Whatever– everything starts and ends in the title?

The kind of writing Dan showed, and many others do… takes some work. Much more than putting some click bait words into a title.

What’s in your title? Is it everything?

I’d rather hear from the cat.

Top / Featured Image Credit: based on screen capture from Kurt Vonnegut’s The Shape of Stories found on YouTube

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as

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