Structuring your story

I wrote in my last blog about the importance of storytelling in copywriting. I said that good storytelling engages and persuades its audience. Our mammoth storytelling brains respond naturally to stories, and have done ever since the days of cavemen telling tales of their latest mammoth hunt around the fire.

Storytelling has been around much longer than writing (let alone copywriting). When I say that storytelling is vital to good copywriting, it’s not because it’s the latest ‘big idea’. It’s because storytelling is part of who we are, as human beings. But there is (of course!) a catch. It has to be good storytelling.

Good v Bad

Good storytelling is, well, good.
It gets results, it’s interesting to read, it makes an impression that isn’t easily forgotten.

Bad storytelling isn’t really storytelling at all.

By its nature, a story takes you on a journey towards an ending. It has a conflict and a resolution.
If a piece of writing doesn’t do that, it’s not a story.

As a fiction writer as well as a copywriter, I use many of the same techniques I use to write fiction as I do to write marketing and sales copy. Both need to have some kind of conflict at their heart. If they don’t, they are not stories.

How do you write a story?

The answer is a boring one: you write it with a structure.

There are several different theories of narrative structure in fiction writing, but they are all arranged around a conflict.

The traditional three act structure (or a beginning, middle and end to most of us) is the most common. In act one, you introduce the characters and the situation. In act two, some kind of conflict, confrontation or struggle takes place. In act three, there is a resolution.

It’s simple, but it works.

Other, more complicated structural theories are out there (this one has eight parts), but they are all essentially expansions on the three act structure.

If you were applying the three act structure to a piece of business copywriting, it might look something like this:

Act one: Connect with the reader. Grab their attention, make sure they know you understand them and what they need. This might just be the headline, it might be the opening paragraph.

Act two: Maintain their interest with conflict. What problem do they have that you can solve? You might include videos, infographics and statistics here.

Act three: Resolve their problem…with your product! Finish with a call to action – if they take it, the resolution is complete.

Structuring copy

Of course, not every single piece of writing will fit so neatly into this structure. And copywriters often need to mix up the three acts, with parts of the ending (especially the call to action) also in the beginning and the middle – especially the call to action. Fiction writers call that foreshadowing, copywriters call it selling.

Whatever words you use, for whichever reason, it’s important (and a little bit fun if you’re a bit of a geek like me) to see how they fit into narrative structures. Conflict based, three-act structures keep people reading.

And if you’re not keeping people reading, why are you writing?