The Top 7 Secrets to Writing a Cracked.com Top 7 List
Over the past month we've been offering up our Saturday slot to some of our favorite writers from around the web. This week we gave the spot to Alex Blagg, managing editor at BestWeekEver.tv and a former Cracked.com columnist. This turned out to be a huge mistake. Below, Alex reveals all of our link-whoring secrets in seven easy-to-digest nuggets.
As editor of a pop culture blog and a former writer for Cracked.com, I deeply understand that The Amusing Top 10 List is possibly the most effective vehicle of internet comedy delivery in the universe. But while these posts might seem like Digg-baiting link lay-ups, a certain art and a craft goes into writing them. And like most fine arts, list writing can be totally encapsulated in an easy-to-digest eight step guide.
Use the Golden Formula
"The" + (Number) + "Most" + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like "in History" or "Ever" will also be accepted) = Popularity
But surely Cracked.com's success can't be reduced to a simple formula, can it?
Note that these articles do not appear in their "unpopular stuff" section.
Learn it. Live it. Love it. Use it over and over again. List titles are sort of like Mad-Libs in that, with just a little imagination (and I mean like the least measurable amount possible), there are infinite possibilities for mild amusement. Deviation from The Golden Format is not recommended, as the unfortunate fools who attempt to be overly clever or "original" only end up being mostly ignored.
Bonus Tip: Preferred adjectives and adverbs include variations on the words "Awesome," "Crazy" or "Ridiculous." The perfect headline would be "The 10 Most Insanely Ridiculous Awesome '80s Cartoon Robot Movie Villains of All Time."
Ask the Right Questions
There are incredibly important questions in the world that need to be answered, which is why people read the The New York Times. Often when writing a list, your goal is to come up with a question that nobody on the face of the earth would ever actually need the answer to--a question that may in fact have never been asked before in the history of the human race.
Cracked on Digg, beating a site that dared to ask an important question, and then dared to
get their ASS KICKED!
This might sound easy but think of it like this: Real newspapers give people answers to the questions they're already asking. What's going on in Iraq? What's up with this Bin Laden guy? It's easy to know what questions to answer when they're being asked of you.
But nobody's asking Cracked and me "Who ARE the Top 10 Greatest Character Actors Who Ever Played Ninjas?" or "What DOES Science Have to Say About the Likelihood of a Zombie Apocalypse?" Journalists have it easy.
Break It Up
Lists by their very nature are already broken up. Surely you don't mean that we should break them up further?
Good question sub-header. Things like paragraphs and complete sentences terrify the typical internet "reader." Creating a simplistic set up/punchline structure to describe each item on your list makes them easier to write, and easier to read.
Take Cracked's "5 Most Needlessly Complex Terror Plots in Film History." (EXCELLENT utilization of the Golden Format? Answers a Question No One Has Ever Asked? Check and Check.)
Each item on the list is presented by setting up the film's primary villain and plot. Then comedic payoff comes to us in the humorously outraged blurbs in the "Why It Failed" portion. Characters in popular culture often do not adhere to the common laws of logic found in the real world, and pointing this out in lists can be very amusing.
Nostalgia is Cheating and Cheating Works
Find AT LEAST one obscure nostalgic reference from people's childhoods to remind them of. Remember that show Gummi Bears? Or those M.U.S.C.L.E. toys or Def Leppard or Intellivision? Of course you do! So do I! This means that it's safe to laugh at my jokes even if you don't get them.
Pick a Nonsensical Wild Card
Sometimes it's helpful to have a nonsensical wild-card. This is when one of your list selections stands in direct logical contradiction with your stated premise. For example, if you were listing the "10 Hottest Oscar-Winners I'd Like To Do It With," you might want to consider throwing Jessica Tandy in there, because she's not hot, or alive, and that means it's funny.
See below, in which Cracked runs down people who were basically cast as themselves, and thus had "The Easiest Acting Roles EVER!"
But Cracked! Wilson the volleyball isn't an actor! You so crazy!
When all else fails and you're totally out of ideas, just start making lists about T & A. We all have those days when we're not feeling the artistic inspiration required to think of thematically-related lists of pop cultural references, but luckily many of the internet's most popular list-loving link referral sites are comprised almost entirely of lonely men, so if you just throw the words "Top 10," "Boobs" and/or "Actress/Women/Teenagers" in front of a bunch of PG-13 pics that look like they could be from the Maxim magazine archive, you're golden.
Say sport, you like boobs, no?
Leave'em Wanting More
The number one item on the list should be vaguely disappointing and anti-climactic. Sort of like this one.
As a consolation, please enjoy this picture of a half-naked drunk horny teen chick.
And we mean that in the least condescending way possible.
Check out more from Alex over at BestWeekEver.tv, the enthusiastically named pop culture blog where he's the Managing Editor.