Surprise Yourself, Surprise Your Readers: The Art of Maintaining Interest

by Michelle Salater on August 22, 2012

Is there anything more painstaking than listening to a story when you already know the ending? The same predictable tropes, the expected twists, the age-old moral of it all?

As readers of fiction, we want stories to surprise us—and as prospective buyers, we want web copy that we can’t mouth the words to. Here are just a few things your web copy can learn from good storytelling:

  • Cause and Effect: Like an interesting story, your marketing copy has to follow the patterns of plausible cause and effect, preferably ones that hold a reader’s attention from start to finish. If the reader can’t connect the dots, you’ve lost them. At the same time, don’t just lead the readers by the nose. Give them enough breadcrumbs to keep them following, and to keep their curiosity piqued.
  • Ready, Set, Action!: Make something happen. Implore your dear readers to get in the mindset you’re after by setting a scene. Where are they? What are they seeing? What’s happening? Use sensory details to paint a picture that shows the reader what’s unfolding rather than telling them. You’ll not only keep your reader’s interest—but you’ll also engage them in a visceral, entertaining way.
  • Tension: Whatever the product or service, your copywriting has to be unique. Of course, you’re probably trafficking in well-trodden territory—we all are. But it’s your job to make the product or service feel brand new. Resist easy connotations and go for something we haven’t heard before. You may try an unexpected juxtaposition (your product in a new environment), or explore a new angle of the problem your service solves. Complications raise questions, and in turn, they keep prospective buyers reading.
  • Change: Aristotle once called for a “reversal of the situation” in drama, meaning it should surprise the audience by running contrary to their expectation, and yet be the necessary outcome of events. For your copy, this might entail a balance of tone. If you begin on a serious note, you must end on a more uplifting one (that fits), and vice versa. More importantly, however, the role of a product or service is to transform some aspect of the buyer’s life—and your marketing copy has to showcase that change.
  • Twists: Finally, you have to surprise yourself. If you can see the call to action coming a mile away, your readers can, too, which means they likely won’t keep reading. Break up your copy with a few curves and twists. Short fiction relies on at least one turn before peak drama, and copywriting is no different. Aim for at least one surprise before the first call to action to keep your readers guessing, and keep them on the edge of their seat.

What are some ways your favorite fiction has inspired your copywriting?

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