Hope everyone had an awesome weekend.
I’m doing things differently today. I’ve cut down to three posts per week, and since I have a consult, I’ll be making the Thursday post the Wednesday post, if I can.
Fiction writers and copywriters (those who write to persuade) use a lot of the same techniques to do their work.
That’s the entire premise of Fiction and Copy Decoded—showing those similarities and how they can be used to mutually strengthen each type of writing.
I usually focus on short stories and emails, but for today, we’ll have to broaden things a little bit.
Because I want to give a blog-idea-in-a-box post for today—to touch on a lot of the areas of similarity between fiction writing and copywriting, in one post.
This will do a lot to mix it up—I usually stick with one idea per post—which is ordinarily what you want to do.
But today I’m feeling a bit ridiculous—so I’m throwing that rule out the window. Which made it hard to come up with a title for this post–word to the wise on that deal.
This may be the longest post I’ve ever done (making this one for the launch of Fabulous Fiction Friday second fiddle from here on out).
We shall see.
Are you ready?
People make the difference, in both fiction and copy. Fiction writers can do this differently than copywriters can—but copywriters almost always start with people—called prospects, customers, clients (or all three).
Fiction writers call these people characters.
Characters are the driving force in fiction, just like people have to live in real life. Just like people are real, characters have to seem real as well—which means you, as the writer, need to know everything about them, while only revealing character traits, background, and other tidbits in little pieces, so that readers will read on without being overloaded or bored.
Just like people have problems in real life, characters have problems in fiction (conflict)—things that need tuning up, or at least things within their control. Fiction writers have to lead their readers as they watch characters struggle to deal with their demons (inner, outer, or otherwise).
Copywriters help to point people to a helpful solution to their problems—notice I said helpful. It’s also good to be sure people actually have a problem they WANT to solve. Otherwise, as a copywriter, you could be blowing your pixels on the wrong crowd.
Marketing pieces like emails, sales letters, and so on have a structure (like AIDA, problem/agitate/solution, and any of a dozen others) that make them work.
Fiction has a similar structure (beginning/middle/end or the Three Act Structure) that makes it work. That’s plot for you.
Others may fight me on either one of those “structure” points because of folks who seem to get by without any of that—like folks who write entire novels with no outline.
In order to break the rules, you have to know them—you can get around in a dark room without a light, can’t you? Sure—IF you’ve been in the room before and know enough not to trip and fall.
But no matter what you’re doing, everything comes back to your characters and their struggle—internal or external—or your prospects and their problems. Something I’ve seen around the web both on good fiction blogs and good marketing blogs is folks not emphasizing the problem or struggle enough.
This is mostly for longer pieces like sales letters or novels, when you have space to elaborate. Emphasizing the problem or the struggle makes it seem serious in the minds of your readers or prospects—which is good. Readers are more likely to WANT to see the character try to solve the problem; prospects (especially prospects who have a problem that can be solved by you or your client) will push forward to your or your client’s solution—provided they want to solve their problem.
Which goes back to interest—the best fiction or copy in the world won’t be read if people aren’t interested in the characters’ conflict, or the problem the product solves that the copy is describing.
When you go to the store or search online for fiction, the first things you’re likely to notice are a) the cover art and/or b) the blurb or description for that novel. This tells you HOW THAT NOVEL STANDS OUT. What’s the deal with that?
To sell books, of course. To sell books.
A science fiction novel is a science fiction novel, right? Yes, and no. Some things are the same, because some concepts have to be familiar to readers, at least at first so they’re not totally lost. But the exact plot all the time with tiny tweaks may leave people bored. That’s why I talk about how to mix things up along with the Fab Fiction Friday prompt (aka Triple F).
Copywriters have a couple strange names for this “standing out.” The one I’ve heard most is Unique Selling Proposition (USP). I did a short post about minibars and USP here. The point for copywriters and their clients is to make sure they get picked for the sale, the appointment, or what-have-ya—whatever the goal is. Different makes the difference. And the difference doesn’t have to be huge.
Think of a puzzle—we can add pieces A, B, C in one puzzle, but A, B, D in another—so they’re almost the same. But if piece D matters to your prospect, and piece C doesn’t—guess who gets picked? This is a bit over-simplified—dozens of “little separators” can factor in to the career of any copywriter or fiction writer. The most important of these isn’t going to be about you—it’ll be about what your client wants and how you deliver that (it’s usually about an experience or end result—not about you or your process—although that will help to differentiate you).
Fiction writers and copywriters also use techniques like implication (foreshadowing) to set things up—like the disappointment Character A may experience if Character B finds out Secret A about them—and then Character B talks to Character C, who knows the secret, and brings it up while Character A isn’t there—it’s like watching two trains speeding toward each other. That interplay between characters and their backgrounds, experiences, and problems—those details—make fiction worth reading.
Copywriters go about things a different way. They use features and benefits (as well as stories) to let people know how something will help them—something like okay the thing is sharp enough to cut pipe, but how the heck does that help me? Well, you won’t have to sharpen it at all, which saves time; you can use it for lots of different jobs around the kitchen, which may replace other tools you have in the drawer; but we can’t stop there. What possible benefits could more time on your hands, and less junk in your house give you? Well, ever walked in to a room that looked nice, when it was a total mess before that? It sure makes me feel good. That’s a benefit. Getting things done with less hassle is also a benefit. And on and on we could (and if you’re writing an email or a sales piece or what-have-ya you should) go. Benefits can be physical, mental, psychological.
And fiction writers use this benefit and feature thing, but in a different way—it’s called description—for scenes, characters, and more (although it’s best for readers to discover things on their own, as much as possible).
What about character attachment? Copywriters and fiction writers do that too. People get attached to characters in books—Frodo, Alice, Peter Rabbit. They relate to them. As a copywriter, you also want to relate to your prospects on a real level—or you want to have your clients’ prospects relate to them on a real level. Because when people get that you’re REAL, they start to trust you. Which results in more engagement, more sales, and maybe even fans—real fans that feel that you KNOW them. Maybe not right away, but that’s the recipe. Start with the craft—do it well, and get the word (HA!) out.
But one of the biggest things fiction and copywriters have in common is the need to keep readers reading.
That leads to sales, follows, shares, fans, and any of a dozen good outcomes—as long as those readers are satisfied, they’ll keep coming back—as long as you keep showing up in front of them.
There’s also a link between the lengths of work that copywriters and fiction writers deal with, and the particular strategies they require—just like you can’t shove a novel into a short story (hinting can only take you so far), you can’t shove a sales letter into a short email—unless you want to make that email a one-shot promo for whatever you’re promoting at the time.
But usually a bunch of messages spread out is better than one message—people need to be reminded. But more than that, you have to deliver value—people welcome value, welcome good writing, and if they have a problem they want solved (or want to be entertained) they may also welcome a good solution—even if that problem is as simple as what awesome story or book to read next.
And there’s a similar dark side, too—manuscripts get rejected if you want to publish fiction with traditional publishing houses or magazines. Email series and sales letters can meet a similar fate and be lackluster on the sales front.
You can cry. Or swear. Or both. Go ahead. But then do your best to revise (if necessary), and keep submitting—or in the process of copywriting, tweak the letter, throw it out, write a new email series, what-have-ya—but get back out there.
Oh, and KEEP LEARNING AND WRITING too. No matter what kind of writing we’ll do, we’ll probably be busy with putting words together until we die (hopefully nobody will find us dead IN FRONT of a keyboard and monitor). All that persistence (minus the dying-while-writing) means a ton of study, trial, error, mentoring, and likely a lot of self-doubt along the way.
More work than most people are willing to do.
Writing is one of the most necessary disciplines on Earth—but it can also be one of the most lonely, frustrating, and disappointing.
So why keep at it?
Putting the pieces together is something I enjoy. I LIKE putting the pieces of a good persuasive email together—from subject line all the way to a sock-’em-in-the-heartstrings P.S. I LIKE thinking up great plots and characters, and laying the pixels to the screen (or words on paper—though not as much anymore).
And since you’re here, maybe you do too. Or maybe it’s something you want to do to help your business, if you’re promoting products, or what-have-ya. I hope you learn a ton about fiction or copywriting, either way, and put things into practice. Maybe you’ll find that writing is something you like to do, after all.
Oh, and did I mention? Getting writing work can be lucrative—especially the marketing-type/persuasive/copywriting kind of writing.
Personally, writing is a big part of my life—and it’s only going to grow to be bigger. Sometimes writing is inconvenient, or hurts. That’s real. That’s life.
I kitchen-sinked this post, and I meant to. This is about more than the blog—it’s about why I write, and what writing means to me. And new parallels occur to me all the time—either because someone presented a kernel of an idea, or because I took that idea in a new direction. Heck, copywriters could learn a thing or two from fiction writers about how to run their businesses—with world-building (I’d like to do a post on that one too).
I’m on the hook for tons of future posts (which is a technique that could serve as a post in and of itself).
And I’m fine with that, on both counts. I’ve done over 100 posts so far, and I don’t plan on stopping.
Never underestimate the power of a good story—even in things like sales letters—to get readers involved.
And there ARE some regularities in the publishing and marketing worlds—like good business weather coinciding with fall weather, the start of college, the end of summer (at least in the USA) and what-have-ya.
Well, that’s it for today. If you’d like to drop me a line in the comments about how writing has impacted your life, have at it.
And have an awesome day.
Until next time,