14 Tips Copywriters Can Learn from Professional Storytellers

Any storyteller will tell you – Plot is essential.

But what else do storytellers do to engage an audience? And how can we apply those secrets to writing better marketing copy?

Almost all agree on a long list of techniques that make stories sound good. Below, is just a small sample of these techniques – along with ways you can use them to improve your copy.

Good stories …

  1. Appear spontaneous. In copy, the secret is to study the message, the benefits, and the offer until they become second-nature.
  2. Give hope. Good stories and good copy give the reader hope for things to come.
  3. Show passion. Passion in telling and selling is not an option, it's a necessity. The key: Having faith in what you're selling.
  4. Overcome obstacles. Drama is all about obstacles and how they're overcome. So is copy.
  5. Make it personal. From caveman to high intellectual, personal stories have a way of proving a point that logic and rationalizations just can't muster.
  6. Name the hero. Court storytellers would make the hero resemble the king. In copy, you can do the same – by showing your reader how he'll triumph with the help of your product.
  7. Name a villain. What keeps your prospect up at night? That's an ideal villain for your sales message to attack.
  8. Reward and tease. Reward listeners with progress and they'll be grateful. Tease with more to come and they'll hang on for more.
  9. Enlarge and enrich. Good stories and good copy remind you of what's important. They raise the bar and inspire you to hop over it.
  10. Build a relationship. Beneath the surface, a good story strengthens the relationship between teller and listener. In sales copy, it does the same between marketer and customer.
  11. Commute facts to the subconscious. From the beginning, good stories have been vehicles for ideas, logic, even moral messages. Sales copy that engages with a story can commute facts just as painlessly.
  12. Have a good twist. A story twist: "The butler didn't do it after all." A twist for an investment letter promo: "Oil is going up – but though it's too late to buy oil companies, it's NOT too late to buy the company that makes the drill bits that are attached to every drill bit in the United Arab Emirates. Who else holds this company? Only the richest energy investor on Wall Street, J.P. Calhoun …"
  13. Make sense. "Realistic" stories aren't always real. They just work harder to make elegant leaps of logic. In copy, the writer has to understand his product well enough to make good sense, too. Knowledgeable customers can spot a fake from a mile off.
  14. Leave them wanting more. "What's the sendoff emotion for your sales message?" asks colleague Addison Wiggin. "How do you want them to feel when they're finished reading? If you know that, you can write toward it from the beginning. But if you don't know, your copy ends up going all over the place."
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Published: July 28, 2003

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