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16.9.15

Find the story

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By Kath Walters

In every good piece of writing, from blogs to emails, there is a story. If you want your writing to influence your reader, that story is the Star of Bethlehem. Follow it religiously.

I’ve been reading a classic text about writing by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. It’s called: Writing that Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business

As I read all the rules – there are so many – I began drawing little models of all the authors’ ideas in this book. Then I saw what linked them all.

A picture in words

When you write well, a picture pops into the mind of the reader. That’s the story. I rushed back home to check my theory – does it work when we write a report, an email, or a memo? Yes, it does. Here’s an example from the book:

It is respectfully requested that you send a representative to our conference.

And here’s the alternative:

All of us here hope that you’ll send a representative. Won’t you please send a representative …

How vividly I see the group of hopeful faces behind the second request. They don’t have to use any adjectives; their respect is in their words.

But no such endearing picture springs to mind with the first entreaty. I don’t know who is making the request, for starters.

Why it works

The biggest mistakes we make in our writing is to use the passive voice too much. The passive voice kills the story. You can tell when you are using the passive voice because the reader does not know who is doing what to whom.

That doesn’t mean you have to be simplistic.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

The start of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is my all-time favourite sentence. Active. Funny. Complex.

Neil Patel is master of the story-in-a-call-to-action. The front page of his website, Quicksprout, asks one question: Do you want more traffic? No one ever has enough traffic.

The next call to action is this:

traffic

Who among us can click the ‘No’ button? Do you see the story behind each of the CTAs? Of course, the golden world of “yes” compared to the grey and gloomy “no” helps us make up our minds.

With Neil’s writing, we always know who is doing what; usually it is us doing what he wants.

Stories influence us

Ann Handley is one of my favourite writers about writing and content marketing. In her book, Content Rules, she writes a whole chapter using a campfire as a metaphor for writing.

The chapter begins:

Have you ever had the joy of building a campfire and then sitting around it with friends and family, enjoying its warmth, the camaraderie, and the instant community?”

With that little story, Handley paints a picture of blogging that I find irresistible. I’d love to believe that my blogs are like a campfire that warms my readers and builds camaraderie.

True stories

If you sit down to write and you cannot find the words, it is because you haven’t found the story. Look for them in every word you write.

 

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