Five Lessons Copywriters Can Learn from Fiction Writers

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““Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”

– Leo Burnett

Earlier this week, I wrote about why I don’t think writers should restrict themselves to one field or genre of work. One of my central arguments was that writing in a different genre than usual can make you a better writer overall. Do you know what else can make you a better writer? Paying attention to what writers in completely different fields do, how they do it, and why it works.

So today I want to take two strands of what I do and bring them together. Let’s talk about what copywriters can learn from fiction writers.

It’s all about the story

Fiction writers understand this intuitively – after all, without story, there would be no fiction. But as copywriters, it’s also our job to tell a story. Whether you’re crafting a social media post, a marketing email, or content for a brand’s website, how well you tell the story will determine how well you sell the audience on whatever you’re trying to convince them of.

So when you sit down to write any piece of copy, ask yourself this: what’s the story? It should have a beginning, middle, and end. It should feature conflict or challenge. And it should ultimately have a satisfying resolution.

Pro tip: when you’re writing marketing copy, aim to make the reader (i.e. the prospective customer) the main character in whatever story you’re telling. The brand, product, or service plays a supporting role.

Hook them from the first line

If a reader picks up a novel and the opening passage doesn’t grab them, they’re likely to close it and never pick it up again. That’s why the first line is arguably the most important in any work of fiction.

But did you know the same is true of copy? There is a near-endless stream of content out there. An uncountable number of words is published on the internet every single day. People also have a shorter and shorter attention span. In other words, if you don’t grab them in the first line, you’ve lost them. They’ll close your email, click away from the website, or scroll on down their social media feed to the next cute cat video.

The first line is everything. So work on it and work on it until it’s as good as it can possibly be.

Paint a picture

Great fiction writers paint a picture with their words. Excellent fiction writers make you feel as though you’re actually there. Have you ever been so immersed in a book that for a moment you were sure you could smell the ocean, hear the bustle of the city, or see the fantastical kingdom before you?

Copywriters should also aim to create an immersive experience. You may not be describing a person or a place in great detail, but you can still aim to fully pull your readers into the experience with you. Include those little details that make your story come to life. As the cliche goes: show, don’t tell.

Focus on the emotional journey

Good fiction writers take their readers on a journey with their characters. That journey has ups and downs – joy, despair, hope. Light and darkness. As a copywriter, you should also aim to appeal to emotion in your writing. What is the reader feeling when they open your email or stumble across your client’s website? How do you want them to feel by the time they’ve finished reading your copy, and what steps will they take along the way?

If it helps, map out the emotional journey you want your reader to take as part of the process of planning your work.

Power words are awesome (see what I did there?) for injecting emotion into otherwise dry, dull, or flat copy. Use them.

Focus on theme

Theme is what a story is about, underneath the surface level plot. In other words, what is its underlying message? In fiction, common themes include love, death, coming-of-age, war, good-vs-evil, and so on. Great fiction writers tend to have a solid understanding of their work’s theme before they even start writing.

So what is the theme of this piece of copy you’re working on? If you’re not sure, ask yourself this: what’s the one message you’d like the reader to take away from it? Ensure that each piece you write has a theme at its heart, and use that theme as your guiding light as you craft your content.

Taking your copy from good to great

If you want your copy to stand out and achieve its goals, you need to grab and hold your readers’ attention. That’s challenging at the best of times, given the distractions of social media, Netflix, and a million other pieces of copy vying for their attention. So how do you make sure yours succeeds? You need to engage people from the moment they start reading, so that they will stop whatever else they’re doing and pay attention to you.

Using techniques from fiction can be one of the best ways to turn lacklustre copy into good copy, or to turn good copy into something outstanding. I hope these pointers help!

Want copy that sparkles? Hire me to help you! Get in touch for a no-obligation quote.

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