In my last post I started talking about the importance of stories in copywriting.
Just to kinda recap, stories are a more lively way of engaging your reader, and drawing them into the copy. They captivate the imagination, and get people so wrapped up in the story that they forget they’re even reading. They enter this sort of “trance-like” state.
Today I’m going to talk about 3 techniques that will improve your story-telling. These techniques are nothing new either. They’ve been around since the very first story tellers who sat around fires, teaching their tribes the history of the world.
Shakespeare used these techniques to woo millions of people over the course of 350 years. Hemingway used them and easily won a Nobel Prize for a book that isn’t even close to being his best work. Caples used them and entranced countless Americans, getting them to order piano lessons by mail.
Here are those techniques, and whoever reads your ads will thank you for knowing them – in crisp, crunchy cash.
1. Start smack in the middle
“The car came screeching around the corner like a 96 mile ‘an hour curve ball. My arms and legs went stiff and I could feel my heart pounding into my chest. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. It was like a hammer plowing through drywall. Then came the crash.”
Now, I could have started that like this…
“One time I was in a car accident. It all happened six years ago when I was driving home from work. This car came screeching around the corner like a 96 mile ‘an hour curve ball…”
But which one grabbed you, and involuntarily threw you into the story? Which gave you no choice but to read on and find out what happens?
This is the effect of starting smack in the middle. Leave out anything that you don’t need. Start with the most exciting detail. Or at least start with some detail that would make someone so curious that they’d just have to read on to find out what happens.
Listen to stories that keep you captivated from the moment you hear them. Ask yourself, “What did that storyteller do to get me curious from the get go?”
Think about your favorite books or movies… A lot of the best start with an exciting scene in a casino, an explosion, a proposal, a murder – something that’s worth our time to keep watching to find out what happens.
2. Concrete Detail
This is perhaps the most important element of any story – and also the one most lacking in copywriting today.
Concrete details are details that you can feel, smell, taste, and see.
Here’s an example:
My arms and legs went stiff and I could feel my heart pounding into my chest. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. It was like a hammer plowing through drywall.
Now, here’s that same sentence with abstract detail (abstract detail is the opposite of concrete detail):
I was so scared that I couldn’t move.
Do you see the difference?
In one sentence I showed you that I was scared.
In the other sentence, I told you I was scared. You may have even thought back to a time when you were scared stiff, too. In those moments you’re not sure if your chest is strong enough to hold your heart.
When you show your reader what happens, you let your reader take in the story for himself or herself. You let the reader participate. Readers like this. They reward you by reading more of what you write. And it makes your story a heck of a lot more interesting.
Here’s a really simple way to write in concrete detail:
When you went through whatever story it is that you’re writing… What did you feel? I mean, on a physical level, what was it you saw, felt, tasted?
For instance, if you’re writing a weight-loss story…
When I was 200 lbs. overweight, I hated walking anywhere. I would shift my body from side to side with every step, because I had to take the weight off of whatever foot I was stepping forward with or else I couldn’t even lift my leg. Sweat would drip down my cheeks after one or two minutes of this. My shirt would get wet, and even if I wore a black one, you could still see the large, damp stains of sweat. I didn’t even bother buying new clothes. They would just get sweaty, stretched out, and ruined – exactly how I felt.
To write this, all I did was imagine for a second that I was 200 lbs. overweight, and then I told exactly what my body did as I walked. Rather than just say…
When I was 200 lbs. overweight it was really hard for me to walk anywhere. I’d get really sweaty.
I broke those details down and showed you why it was hard to walk, and what “really sweaty” looks like.
3. Keep it conversational
When you sit down to write, write as if you were talking. In fact, you might wanna practice your story out loud a few times. Or practice telling it to some of your family and friends. You can see which parts of the story get the best reactions, and in your copy you can really let those parts shine.
But most importantly, when you tell a story out loud, it forces you to keep your voice. A lot of times when we sit down to write, for some reason we end up trying to be someone else.
Maybe after droning away on a computer for hours we feel like someone else. When you’ve been staring into that glowing screen for hours, wide-eyed as a full moon, it’s easy to get disconnected.
To be really cliche for a moment… “Just be yourself”
Yeah, people have been telling you that since kindergarten. Well, it works. It works wonders in copy. Who would’ve thunk that all along your kindergarten teachers were encouraging your copywriting career?
Tap into your own voice, and tell your own story.
What do I mean by “your own voice”?
Think of a time you got so excited about something, that you just started blabbing on and on about it and couldn’t stop. Maybe it was the time you wrote a real winner of an ad and talked everyone’s ear off who would listen. Or that other time you figured out how good gum tastes when you take off the wrapper.
As you were blabbing on at a full 100 round per minute, did you think about how you said anything? Did you stop and analyze, and ask yourself… “Hm, what would be the best way to say this? How should I say it?”
Of course not! You were in the moment. You were speaking from pure passion. You were speaking naturally, in the best way you know: your own voice.
That’s what “your own voice” is: it’s how you speak when you just let your guard down and let yourself go.
When I used to teach guitar, I called it “conviction”
I would teach my students about one thing that separated the guitarists who were infamous through the passing of time, from the ones who you hear once and never come back to again…
And it’s not skill.
It’s not their style of playing.
Not their experience.
Not even their cool hair do.
It’s the fact that when they play, they’re fully in their music. They’re fully connected to every note they strum. And as a result, you can’t help but connect to it too.
Copywriting is the same way
If you’re connected to your voice when you write, and you plug your voice into the basic elements of copywriting…
Then you can’t help but create copy that people connect to and want to keep reading. And when they keep reading, you can fill their head with more and more reasons to buy your product, so that before they even get to your call to action, they have the credit card out on the desk.