3 Screenwriting Essentials That Will
Make You a Better Copywriter

More often than not, the specific skills you already have as a screenwriter can set you up to be a successful copywriter … making six figures or more.

I’ll tell you why …

But first, let me take a moment to define copywriting. It’s “any writing that offers a product or service for sale.”

Direct-response is a specific type of copywriting that tells a story to persuade your reader to act.

And, it’s precisely this storytelling ability, along with a few other screenwriting essentials, that can make a screenwriter a great direct-response copywriter.

For one thing, screenwriters are extremely focused in their writing style, according to Michael Hauge, story consultant and author of Writing Screenplays That Sell.

For example, every screenplay must adhere to a tight structure and a specific format. Unlike, say, novelists, who can just write … and write … and write.

Screenwriters must also consider “budget” while laying it all down … meaning that, if they write “a thousand men on horseback appeared on the horizon,” they must consider that it will cost the producer $5 million to create that scene.

Screenwriters also have to work with time, genre, description, and length.

They don’t have the luxury of dramatic devices such as asides, illustrations, author’s viewpoint, or character’s thoughts.

In other words, they can only convey information that an audience can see or hear on the screen.

You know … there are no footnotes …

So, what’s all this got to do with copywriting?

A lot!

Copywriters must also be disciplined when writing and, similarly, they must be direct and clear with their writing.

Beyond this, there are three other aspects of the craft that a screenwriter can employ if he or she decides to branch out into copywriting:

  • Artistry vs. commerciality
  • Plot and heart
  • The first 10 pages

Artistry vs. Commerciality

While artists need to make money, they often have a degree of concern that they’re “selling out.”

I don’t recommend that way of thinking, though.

In fact, I’d say most emphatically to anyone with a question in this regard … get over it.

There’s room for both.

Just as Hollywood is not in the non-profit business, neither is your copywriting client. (Okay, maybe he is, if you’re writing an appeal for charity, but I guarantee if he hires you, he’s probably looking for financial results.)

As a screenwriter, you want to produce a screenplay that will get the attention of agents, directors and producers … and that means they must think there’s a profit in it.

Similarly, as a copywriter, you want to produce copy that will get the attention of clients who see the profit potential in your promotions.

In my mind, you have to let go of any myth that says you can’t create profitable, artistic success …

Still, you may be wondering how you can achieve a financial goal and still be artistic.

I think you’ll be a bit surprised by the answer.

It’s love.

In screenwriting, Hauge says, “ … if you don’t have any real love for such movies, then they won’t make millions coming out of your computer.”

And, when it comes to direct-response copy, renowned copywriter Mark Morgan Ford (under his former pen name, Michael Masterson) writes in his book The Architecture of Persuasion, “Business should not be like war. It should be like love. And not a steamy, one-night stand, but a mutually beneficial, steadily improving romance that lasts a lifetime. The psychological value of loving your customers is easy to understand … The advantages of loving, rather than conquering, your customers have never been greater than they are today.”

In other words … love for what you do, love for your audience, love for your customers.

“The single most important way for a copywriter to love his customers is to write sincere, truthful copy that promotes a good product – a product that solves a customer’s problem or helps her achieve a goal,” Ford says.

And this leads us right into the next essential skill …

Plot and Heart

In the movies, there are two threads going on simultaneously. One is the plot – the external story.

You know: Who did what to whom, and then this happened.

It’s the logical story.

At the same time, there’s the internal story – the heart message.

The emotional story.

The best stories have both dovetailing in a rich complexity, leaving the audience fully satisfied.

Same goes for copywriting.

You have the logic side – your product, its features (facts about the product) and benefits (advantages that stir emotion), its story. And then you have the customer, with his or her emotional story, which is where the heart message comes in.

Understanding the interweaving of plot and heart – the logical and emotional sides – helps you tell both stories well when writing copy and helps you resolve these kinds of questions:

How’s this product going to impact your reader’s life? What are his thoughts, feelings and desires? What problems is your customer suffering? What will he feel after using this? Who is he now and who will he be after?

It’s always a delicate balance and interplay.

Yet, if you don’t master the next essential, you might as well chuck it … because it won’t stand a chance of being read all the way through.

The First 10 Pages

Imagine Rob Reiner picking up your script, reading the first 10 pages and saying, “I want to make this movie.”

That’s exactly what happened for novice screenwriter, Justin Zackham, with his screenplay for The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Like it or not, that’s Hollywood. It’s all about the first 10 pages.

It’s just like this in copywriting. The first part of any piece of advertising copy must grab the attention of the reader and compel him to keep reading by promoting the features and benefits of the product. This first section is actually 80% of the copy’s power.

For example, consider a headline in a sales letter, which is the most important part of this vital section of any copy project.

David Ogilvy said you could spend 80 percent of your time writing the headline, and it wouldn’t be wasted.

And there’s a good reason for this.

Besides grabbing attention, a headline can:

  • Target your prospect by saying something meaningful to him
  • Stir curiosity
  • Make a promise
  • Introduce a compelling idea
  • Make an offer
  • Challenge the prospect

See what I mean?

The beginning matters, whether it’s the first 10 pages of a script or the headline of a sales letter.

Remember that, as a screenwriter, you’ve already got an impressive array of techniques and disciplines to draw from for crafting compelling copy. And hopefully, I’ve shown you a few ways to use what you know in a new, lucrative career as a direct-response copywriter.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: June 6, 2012

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