Three Steps To Pump Up The Drama In Your Copy

By: Victoria B. Rosendahl

All the world’s a story. Video games have storylines; newspapers report stories; country music lyrics tell a sad tale.

At a quick glance it would appear that fiction writing and copywriting are two mutually exclusive disciplines. But it just isn't so.

Fiction and copywriting share the same heart: emotion.

What's the goal for a fiction writer? I mean a slam-bang Harry Potter series type fiction writer? To write best-selling novels.

And what's the target for a copywriter? To write best-selling controls, of course.

There are three fiction techniques that can pump up the drama in your copy:

  • Imagery

  • Tension

  • Release

Let's look at them one at a time.

IMAGERY

Imagery is defined as 'mental images' or 'figurative language'. What it does is create pictures in a reader's head through words.

The best way to get an image across is to find some common ground with the reader. That's where similes and metaphors help. While some might think that this kind of writing has no business being in direct-mail copy, I'm here to disprove that.

Here's an example for organic tranquilizer we’ll call Calm-All:

Take Becky: When she learned that Robin had won the award she rightfully deserved, she lost it. Came unglued. Threw Robin’s staplers and boxes of paper clips.

We've all, at one time in our lives, probably felt like Becky. And that paragraph gives us a visual image of how she’s feeling. But what about Robin? How about this:

Take Becky: When she learned that Robin had won the award she rightfully deserved, she lost it. Came unglued. Threw Robin’s staplers and boxes of paper clips -- the ones that were all lined up -- just so -- like soldiers on a battlefield.

The addition of 14 words, 'the ones that were all lined up -- just so -- like soldiers on a battlefield', added depth to the scene and gave us a mental picture of Robin without fully describing her. The soldiers on the battlefield simile sets up the tension.

TENSION

Tension can manifest itself in lots of forms. There are tension headaches, tension rods, and tension in fabric. One of the best tools a writer can have is the ability to create tension in a storyline.

Now, this does not have to be the cliffhanger from Dallas -- it can and should be more subtle than that.

It could be just a line.

That's it, right there. The line right above where you are now -- a one sentence paragraph -- creates tension all by itself simply by disrupting flow. That's where you want something memorable, disturbing, thoughtful.

How about Becky and Robin? What was the simile about the boxes of paper clips? That they were all lined up -- just so -- like soldiers on a battlefield.

The tension started in two places in that phrase: 'just so' and 'soldiers on a battlefield'.

  • 'Just so' -- Sure, I could've made it longer, explained about distance between the boxes or described how each box end matched the next one perfectly. But that would've been too long. “Just so" describes Robin’s anal compulsiveness without being wordy.

  • 'Soldiers on the battlefield' -- Not only does this visual give you an idea of the kind of precision Robin demands, but the “battlefield" states in one word the atmosphere in that room.

The icing on the tension cake is a line you haven't seen yet:

Take Becky: When she learned that Robin had won the award she rightfully deserved, she lost it. Came unglued. Threw Robin’s staplers and boxes of paper clips -- the ones that were all lined up -- just so -- like soldiers on a battlefield.

She even wrote on the walls.

Now, by itself, wall writing isn't that big a deal. After all, you probably did it when you were a kid or during that stint as a graffiti artist in San Francisco.

So what makes it more? The fact that it follows the paragraph where Becky lost it, had a meltdown, when postal. And it makes you wonder just what she wrote. It creates tension because its behavior you don't expect from a rational adult.

Why?

Because society tells us that when an adult is angry and hurt writing on walls isn't acceptable. It's something a child would do and we can't be seen as having so little control.

Okay, now Becky’s a psychopath because she wrote on some walls. The reader will hold her breath on several levels with different emotions:

  • Whoa! What a psycho = shock

  • Whew! I'd never be like that = relief

  • Wow! Wish I could unleash it all like she did = desire and envy

With 21 words, your direct-mail copy for Calm-All caused your reader want to order to make sure she never reacts like Becky did.

And when she's held her breath long enough, you let her go.

RELEASE

This is the point in a work of fiction where the writer lets go of the reader's throat and lets her come up for air. And it's the thing that keeps readers turning pages whether they are bound in a book or enclosed in an envelope.

Here's Calm-All’s release:

Take Becky: When she learned that Robin had won the award she rightfully deserved, she lost it. Came unglued. Threw Robin’s staplers and boxes of paper clips -- the ones that were all lined up -- just so -- like soldiers on a battlefield.

She even wrote on the walls.

Hey, it's okay to make a scene sometimes. It's all right to get rid of pent-up frustration.

It's just not your fault.

The last two paragraphs following the tumult of Becky and Robin make the push for Calm-All a slam dunk:

When you're on your very last nerve, reach for Calm-All.

Just for fun, here's Becky and Robin as a scene from a novel:

Becky lost it. Did exactly what her parents had warned her never to do:

DO. NOT. MAKE. A. SCENE.

Wisps of dirty blond hair stuck to the sweat on her face. Fury pounded her into the production room, all sense of business decorum lost.

Finding Robin’s things, her tools, Becky decided to destroy them as Robin had destroyed her. First was a wide tipped Magic Marker and next the graffiti on and over Robin’s desk. Robin’s boxes of paper clips – all lined up just so like soldiers on a battle field -- were cast all over the floor. And the stapler, pitched at just the right angle, shattered the glass on the frame of Robin’s Ad Age Award.

The award that was rightfully Becky's.

The imagery is found in the third paragraph where we can actually see what Becky looks like at the point of explosion. The tension comes in the paragraph after that and the release is the last sentence.

CONCLUSION

Direct-mail copy's story is told through the needs and desires of a reader for an offered product or service. Elements of fiction -- imagery, tension, release -- can enhance direct-mail copy and make the sale.

Remember:


Fiction does something To the reader


Copy does something For the reader

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