Want to improve your copywriting skills? You can, when you learn the hidden techniques of bestselling novelists like Agatha Christie.
In 2005, British scientists studied Agatha Christie’s novels:
A linguistic study of more than 80 of her novels concluded that a number of key phrases triggered a pleasure response in readers.
Study co-ordinator Roland Kapferer said the researchers believed Christie’s language patterns “stimulated higher than usual activity in the brain”.
I began my writing career writing novels, long before I started writing copy, so I’ve always been aware that writing engrossing, unputdownable novels is a lot like writing copy.
Bestselling authors with a copywriting background include James Patterson, Helen Gurley Brown, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. So, if you want to become a bestselling novelist, learning how to write copy may be a great way to enhance your novelistic skills. And vice versa.:-)
Let’s look at three novelistic techniques which will help you to write better copy. By the way, if you don’t read fiction, dip into a bestselling author or two. They know how to keep their readers engaged; you’ll see how it’s done.
1. Trigger the reader’s imagination: make your reader care.
As a copywriter, you’re putting pictures into your reader’s head, starting with the headline. It’s not complicated.
How did Christie do it? From the BBC New article:
Christie was also found to have used a very limited vocabulary.
“It means that readers aren’t distracted and so they concentrate more on the clues and the plots,” said Dr Pernilla Danielsson of Birmingham University.
They also found that Christie frequently used dashes to create “a faster-paced, unreflective narrative”.
If you’re unfamiliar with Christie’s novels, they kick off with someone’s death: a mystery. Who did it? And more to the point, why do you care?
Caring is vital. Literary critics are often unkind about Christie. However, she created some wonderful characters in Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Readers got to know them, and loved them – they care about them. I challenge you to recall the characters from a “literary” novel you read last year, or even last week.
Your reader has to care about your copy. Yes, the headline is vital, as is WIIFM, but caring comes first.
Take some hints from Christie: care about your audience, the products you’re promoting, use plain language, and get to the point.
2. Hook your reader, and lead him on a breadcrumb trail.
We’ve discussed copywriting hooks. Hooking your reader is vital. You’ve also got to lead your reader through your copy on a breadcrumb trail. Novelists do it by withholding information. Curiosity’s a powerful motivator. You want to know “who done it.”
Christie’s a master of the breadcrumb trail. She’s always careful to open and close small mysteries (red herrings) right throughout the book, leading the reader on. Often chapters end on a cliffhanger. The breathless reader reads on, long into the night.
Think about how you might apply this technique in the copy you write for your business.
Tip: if you’re writing catalog copy, you haven’t the time or space for a breadcrumb trail. With only 50 words to play with, you’ve got to get to the point. Nevertheless, you still need a hook. Find it.
3. Stay on track: satisfy your reader with a great climax.
Michael: My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Kay Adams: What was that?
Michael: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.
You don’t need to go quite that far with your offerings… :-)
However, do strive to make your offerings something your audience can’t refuse.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about “stories” in copywriting. Yes, stories are essential. Even more essential is every word of your copy. Consider the hidden techniques of bestselling novelists. Read novels. Identify the techniques. Then use them to write better copy.
And always… have fun. :-)
Want to become a copywriting master? You can, more quickly than you imagine.