5 ways fiction writing can help you produce more effective copy

James Cullen

There are similarities in the techniques used in fiction writing to sell a story to the reader and the methods copywriters use to make sure their copy persuades and sells.
Here are five tips for better fiction writing that can also be used to enhance your copywriting:

1. Avoid exposition

The rule of writing fiction well is to dive straight into the action. You don’t start by describing what someone did before they headed off for a skydiving lesson, you start with them jumping out of the plane…and finding out their parachute is broken!
Freelance copywriting can benefit from this approach too. Fiction writers need to show, not tell, and avoid unnecessary exposition. In your copy, you are showing potential customers how they will benefit from a product or service, not just telling them what the product does.
Cutting through the unnecessary waffle and striking straight at the heart of how they need what you’re selling to solve their problem is a key part of being a successful freelance copywriter. Follow the examples set by some of the literary greats and cut the exposition and get straight into the action.

2. What are the stakes?

In fiction, your character needs to have something to lose. If they have nothing to lose (or gain), then nobody is going to care about what happens to them. No matter how strong the plot is, if a deep desire doesn’t fuel the character’s journey, they won’t be interesting.
This works exactly the same in copywriting. Unless you can instil some stakes into your copy, it’s likely to be skimmed over. These questions can help you identify what they are:
  • why should the customer buy now?
  • why wouldn’t they want to miss out on this event?
  • what is it about what you’re selling that they need in order not to lose something?
  • can you save them time or money?
  • can you give them experiences that will add to their lives?
Think of the stakes and use some of the motivating factors from fiction writing when speaking to potential customers.

3. Make it personal

No matter the character in fiction, if they have a trait we can liken to ourselves, we will care more about them. And the more we care about them, the more we’ll be invested in what happens to them. By making a personal connection between the reader and the story or character, fiction writing can make you more invested.
The same applies to copywriting. Think of some of the ads you’ve seen. They work because we can imagine ourselves dealing with the universal issues that are often shown and can imagine how we might benefit from the product or service. Making a personal connection to the reader of the sales copy can be a factor in their purchasing decision.

4. Cut the cliches

Sorry to burst your bubble, but a word to the wise from Fiction Writing 101 is to avoid cliches like the plague. Readers will be bored stiff with cliches and phrases they have heard time and time again.
It’s the same for copywriting. Avoid sales-y cliches and just keep it simple, stupid. You won’t be expected to reinvent the wheel with your copywriting, but old hat phrases should be avoided at all costs.
The customer’s always right, so put yourselves in their shoes and understand they don’t want to be bombarded with tired allegories and metaphors they have heard before, especially if it forms the backbone of your writing.
It’s better late than never to realise that you’re using too many cliches – but it’s not too late to go cold turkey and stop.

5. Get Emotional

Fiction writing’s main goal is to elicit an emotion from the reader. Fear at what might come next. Sadness at a character’s demise. Happiness at our hero making progress. Excitement at what a plot twist may bring.
Or simply just curiosity to see what happens next. This emotive writing should form the basis of all good copywriting, too. We are writing to solve problems customers may have and improve their lives. We don’t want to sell them a new comb, we want to sell them the emotion they will feel when they see how smooth and shiny their hair is after using the comb.
Tapping into how your writing can elicit emotion from a reader is a key skill in both fiction and non-fiction writing.
Up for (and have the time to take part in) a fiction writing challenge? National Novel Writing Month (NatNoWriMo) which happens every November, is a great opportunity to sharpen your skills by writing a 50,000-word novel in a month. It can help you build the focus and discipline needed to hone your writing craft.
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