“Let me illustrate …”
When you know how to write a story, you up your writing game. I’m not talking about writing a novel, short story, or other form of fiction, but rather storytelling in content and copy.
It’s standard operating procedure for writers to use a story
as a hook, in a transition, or to drive home a point. (More about writing a hook.) Anecdotes and
illustrations are central in good content and good copywriting.
For stories to be effective, you need to start with the end in mind. You’ll have the best success in writing good stories for content if you first identify your point. After that, you’ll write the story. Finally, you’ll connect the dots for your reader.
Content and copywriting often address an abstract issue. Think love, greed, joy, fear, peace, patience, insecurity, satisfaction …
That’s why before you write one word of your story, ask yourself this: “What is the point I’m trying to make?” Then write it out.
You need a point with clarity. Let’s say you’re putting together an appeal letter. Perhaps the issue you and your organization address is hunger. But don’t stop there … hunger is a big topic. You need to dig deeper to identify the point for the particular piece you’re writing.
Your point might be this: “Children in our city are hungry, but their food insecurity is fixable.” That is a more focused concept than “hunger.”
Write out your point. Keep it front and center as you write your story.
The best stories for content are based a real life situation – one your readers can relate to – such as a story of a real-life beneficiary or client. (Here are some tips for collecting stories from your work.)
Choose a story that is an example of your point. Then tell it using senses and emotions to paint a picture in words.
The word picture helps make the abstract issue become concrete for the reader.
Using our example, you can draw upon notes from a volunteer about their experience with a pair of siblings named Deanna and Michael. Records show that these children are left alone each evening with no food while their mother works. Your organization stepped in to help. You can write your story beginning like this:
Deanna tried to ignore the gnawing in her belly as she rubbed her little brother’s back. Michael whimpered. If it’s hard for me to go two days without dinner, she wondered, what must it be like for a 3-year-old? Suddenly, Deanna heard a knock at the door. She peeked out. There stood the KidzMealz volunteer weighed down with grocery bags. The volunteer smiled and stepped past the walls peeling with paint and into the cramped, dank living area.
You can feel your own stomach rumbling and your own heart breaking right along with Deanna and Michael. Your story helps make children’s hunger tangible for your readers.
A well-chosen illustration by itself is not enough to make your point. You need to spell out how your story connects to your point. This is the step that surprises many content writers and copywriters. We think we should be nuanced and allow the reader to “figure out the connection for himself.”
News flash: this is not the time for subtlety. Readers don’t want to work that hard. You’re not done until you make the connection for the reader.
Your story is effective when it acts like the dots in a connect-the-dots puzzle. Explain in plain language how the details in the story reveal the point. This usually involves a pivot.
Deanna’s mouth watered when she noticed a box of Cheerios in the grocery bags. Does your mouth water when you see a box of cereal? Mine doesn’t, either. But your gift means hungry children right in your own neighborhood – children like Deanna and Michael – can have a meal tonight. Their hunger is a problem you and I CAN fix.
See the dot-to-dots? You’ve painted a picture using the siblings’ story (“Here is a real life situation.”) You’ve told your organization’s story by introducing the volunteer (“Here is how we are fixing it.”) Then … you pivot from Deanna’s hunger to the reader (“Does your mouth water when you see a box of cereal? Here is how you can help!”)
It’s that pivot that provides the connection. You’ve made your point – children are hungry in your neighborhood, but you can help – by connecting it to a story.
Know your point. Then tell the story. Then connect it to the point. That’s how your stories can be so powerful.
More About How To Write a Story
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