Ever since I was a kid, I have been a fan of daytime soap operas. I can remember coming home from school and watching my VHS taped show for the day. I would follow the storyline and thought that no matter how ridiculous the plot, whoever wrote the lines knew what they were doing.
Being a decent writer means that you are a decent storyteller, but why stop at decent? Improving your storytelling skills will strengthen your writing and make your work more attractive and relatable—two highly sought after elements in all wanted copywriters. Practice makes perfect. So here are ten exercises you can use to improve your storytelling swag:
1. Keep it Real
If you are anything like me, then you probably have at least 2,000 pieces of spam mail waiting to be opened. The taglines always catch me. “Suzie just made $50,000 in ten minutes and you can too.”
Obviously, Suzie is full of garbage. However, at least one person believed her story and was convinced to do something that wasn’t beneficial. Even Writer’s Digest agrees that lying to your audience or making something sound unbelievable discredits you as a writer. As a general rule of thumb, read your work out loud. If you have a hard time believing what you wrote, then try again.
When copywriting for a business or consumer-based audience, be careful not to allow storytelling elements to take over. Storytelling should complement the copy and give it added appeal, not define it as fiction.
2. Adaptation is Key
Think about the four seasons of the year. During each one, we have to adapt to the weather by wearing warmer clothes or adjusting the thermostat. Think of each piece of copy as a new season. You won’t write a landing page the same way you write a sales pitch. The story on the page should be compelling, but also, fit the niche in which the writing takes place.
3. Complete a Practice Run
Practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t make us perfect; however, it does make us better. This doesn’t stop at just writing. It also means reading, talking, creating dialogue, learning other words, exploring the thesaurus, and developing a style. Practicing your writing skills means that you continuously work to improve both your strengths and weaknesses.
4. Be the Original Cookie
I love cookies. There was one time that I was in the mood for some, but low on cash, so I went to the store and bought the cheapest bag they had. I was expecting deliciousness but instead spent the night mad due to wasting money on cookies that tasted like chocolate cardboard crackers. They even smelled odd.
Don’t be the knock off cookie! Your voice and your style of storytelling should be different and hard to duplicate.
As a copywriter, sometimes that notion is difficult. However, this is where your ability to adapt swoops in to save you from being like everyone else. Not all of my clients find my style of writing fits their motif, and that’s okay. We can’t always have the freedom to infuse our sense of style into someone else’s brand. When we show our clients that we can bend for the sake of producing what they need, they are sure to keep us around.
5. Use Your Senses
Her sweltering palms, stained with strawberry juice, reminded her of the first summer they met.
That was a line I wrote for one of my papers in college. The point of the line wasn’t for it to sound good but to manipulate words to awaken the senses.
Play around with words that will help to entice your audience and their five senses. Doing so will draw them in and help them visualize what you are conveying.
6. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
That may seem like a cliché, but it’s the truth. Use your client’s website, their pictures on social media, or just their existing presence to create a story. Share with the reader who your client is through a visual lens smithed by words. Pay attention to the word structures you use. A visual landscape will help you conceptualize what you see and strengthen your storytelling skills.
7. Stare at People
I live in a large metropolitan city, so imagine the freeway traffic during rush hour. Often times, I stare at the people in the cars around me. I mimic them and create a dialogue about what they are doing in the car. I start to tell myself a story about that person’s life, guess their name, give them a persona, and create a new character.
It may sound crazy, but human behavior is your biggest ally. Think about the business you are writing for and the role they play in their consumers’ lives. If you were the consumer, what would you be looking for and why? If you were the business, why is your product the best, and what sets it apart from the rest?
Read your client’s testimonials, watch someone interact with the product or the business itself—and this doesn’t have to be physical. You can “watch” via social media and reviews. Evolved people watching will help your copy become more relatable and believable.
Reading is just as important as writing. It allows you to see firsthand the different styles that other writers use to convey their points. Personally, I like to read the little blurbs in catalogs. They are often misspelled or have little information about the product. So I rewrite them.
Reading another copywriter’s work helps you improve your storytelling by identifying things that are cliché. Read magazines, old press releases, newspapers, billboards, brochures, website landing pages, blogs, articles or any other piece of copy that you can get your hands on. As a reader, you become the target audience and can identify what is and isn’t working within the copy, which ultimately gives your clients a major advantage.
I have a catchphrase that I use all of the time. When someone asks me how I am doing, I simply say, “Kicking it like a chicken; clucking and pecking.” People begin to laugh, and it is an icebreaker that eases conversation. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t; I overheard a drunk guy say it to someone in a parking lot.
Eavesdropping may be rude, but when it comes to storytelling, it makes for great dialogue.
Listen to the diction, phrases, tone, and language of others and use it in your writing. Whether formal or informal, copywriters use dialogue to speak directly to their audience all of the time. Paying attention to real conversations will help to improve your ability to incorporate first and second person point of views as needed.
This is self-explanatory. Writing is like breathing, if you don’t exhale, writer’s block will suffocate you. I write all of the time, whether it be something someone said, rewriting an email blast, or practicing a press release.
As a copywriter, you have to learn to be versatile. Whether it’s a grocery ad or a blog post about real estate, write something, push outside of your comfort zone, and practice to perfect and enhance your skillset. After all, how can you improve your skillset if you don’t write enough to see where you need to grow?
Storytelling in a Nutshell
When it comes to writing, storytelling is an unlimited anomaly. No longer is it committed to storybooks and scripted shows. Stories can be told in brochures, advertisements, press releases, the back of cereal boxes, landing pages…you get the idea!
As writers, we have a responsibility to our audience to make sure the story is being told. Regardless of what you’re writing or why you are writing it, have fun. Make your story your own. Don’t be boring and think outside of the box. Improving your skillset means that you are investing in yourself and your abilities as a copywriter. Boosting your storytelling skills and incorporating them into your copy will better suit the needs of your clients and their prospective audience.