She steps out of the window. Onto the ledge. 57 stories above the cold concrete of Fifth Avenue.
Yelling in through the window…
“I’m out here Murray!”
“The time has come for action…”
“Clearly I’m not wanted anymore…”
“Just one step, I’ll be free…”
Her heartbeat pounds. The tension rises. A crowd gathers below.
Will she do it? Will she…?
“One small step…”
What’s going to happen? Is he going to talk her in off the ledge? Does he even care?
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that my wife and I saw Songs For A New World this weekend…
It’s a musical of sorts — a song cycle — that tells a bunch of stories of folks in the moment of decision.
And as I watched, I couldn’t turn my copywriter’s brain off.
My storyteller’s brain, especially.
I marveled in how each song — maybe just three or four minutes long — told you so much story in so little.
And all in that very moment of decision in the character’s lives.
Take the song above — “Just One Step.”
Zero back story.
You’re thrown into the plot as she steps out onto the window ledge. And in the words she’s yelling to her husband through the window (singing, actually) you get a picture of everything that’s gone horribly wrong in their marriage.
Song after song pulled off this stunt impeccably.
A bare stage. Every actor dressed in black.
No costumes, no props — save for a couple crates they used as chairs or platforms, and a small riser at the back of the stage.
The entire story told in seconds, through the words, the pace and tone of the music, and the actors’ expressions.
No narrator to come in and explain what the songs are, where the characters are from, or why we should listen to them. No time for that.
They just dive in.
It’s one of the reasons I love to see good drama — live, TV, movies, whatever…
It stirs these observations up in a way that academic study never will…
Allowing me to reflect on how I can use what works in the drama as I create drama of a different kind…
My sales story…
Which brings us to today’s Copy Tuesday lesson…
If you want to hook your reader into your message… And have them enthralled before they ever realize what hit them… You need to take a page from the dramatist’s playbook.
There’s a narrative technique in drama called in media res. It’s Latin for “in the midst of things.”
This is where a play starts (or a song in Songs For A New World), and suddenly you’re in the chaos of things and trying to figure out where you are, what’s going on, and why you got there.
As the reader or viewer, you show up on the scene, and everything is already going on.
It’s up to you to catch up.
Some things you’ll have to pull from narrative.
Others you’ll have given to you in flashbacks or conversations about a past event.
Either way, you’re not starting at the beginning.
Just like life, really.
How many times do we go into a situation knowing the real back story? What’s going on? Why we’re there? What role everyone else has to play?
The same applies to drama.
The same applies to copy.
You gotta start in the middle of things.
Even, almost at the very end.
You can catch folks up as you go.
But if you don’t hook ‘em and keep ‘em, you’re not going to be doing any catching.
Just think about these famous examples…
Star Wars starts in the middle of a battle, with Storm Troopers then Darth Vader boarding a ship… Leia already in the midst of crisis, sending a message on a droid of “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”…
Breaking Bad starts with Walt driving the RV wildly through the desert wearing only underwear and a gas mask, with Jesse passed out in the passenger’s seat, also in a gas mask… Two bodies slide back and forth across the floor in the back of the RV… A scene that is built up to with the back story that follows…
The magic movie The Prestige starts flashing between a pile of top hats in the forest, and Cutter performing a magic trick of making a bird disappear from a collapsing cage for Borden’s daughter… Scenes that are only played out late in the movie…
These are all great examples of in media res… No warming up… No setup…
Just straight into the thick of things…
No doubt you can find countless other examples…
Here’s how to apply this to your copy…
First off, watch out for “clearing your throat…”
This is the all-too-common vomiting all over the keyboard that we all do when we sit down with the blank page.
We put in back story. We set the stage. We build a logical case.
If a piece of copy you’ve written suffers from this, cut it out. Either move this block further down in the copy, if you can’t cut. Or remove it entirely.
Find the real story — maybe a couple paragraphs deep, maybe a couple pages in — and bring that up front.
What will make the reader sit up straight and dive into your copy? What middle-of-the-story idea is the one that feels new and fresh to your market? What is the one thing that you’ve buried in your copy that tells the reader “Here’s what I have for you and why”?
Cut all the way up to that point, and work anything you absolutely can’t afford to lose back in later in the copy.
Second, if you’re going to use story or drama in your copy (and you should), beware the “set up.”
It’s easy to try to set the stage when we write story.
It’s far more interesting and compelling to be thrust into the middle of the action, and only told the barest minimum of details later.
Do the same thing with stories in your copy.
Third, do the painful edit.
I’m still getting a hang of this one.
If you’ve done a good job on the project, you likely have a ton of research. Far more than fits into the copy you need to write. You know more stories and have more details and facts than your customer would ever need to make a buying decision.
Spend serious time with your copy trying to cut all this extra detail out.
Don’t cut too much. You have to tell your full sales story.
But cut enough — probably at least 10%. Enough that the pace is brisk, the copy reads quickly, and the momentum is not interrupted on the way to the sale.
All of this will help you hook your reader — and get the kind of breakthrough winners you’re looking for!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets