Your success as a writer depends on your storytelling ability. I include ALL writers in that, not just fiction writers. Whether you’re writing for the Web, blogging, copywriting… or of course, writing fiction… today, writing for money means telling stories.
So how do you tell stories? Since your ability to tell a story equals income, it’s worth thinking about.
Writing for money: sometimes one word is a plot
Let’s look at what a “story” might be. Google says that a story is: “an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.”
In Writing Short Fiction: What’s a Short Story?, we said:
“In a short story, someone wants something… a likable character undergoes a transformation, or learns a lesson, or solves a big problem.”
You don’t need to get fancy with your stories. Sometimes a story is just a word.
Bestselling novelist James Patterson once headed the ad agency J. Walter Thomson. He shares this story about the power of stories:
“The Amish have an excellent reputation for making top quality products… a family in a town close to an Amish community had to find homes for a litter of kittens. They put out a sign… ‘FREE KITTENS’… no one stopped. Then they changed the sign to ‘FREE AMISH KITTENS’. The litter was gone in a day.”
“Amish” — one word told a story.
Let’s look at some easy tips which will help you to weave stories into your writing… and make more money.
1. Find a story, and use it: stories resonate
Stories work because we are drawn into them. They resonate with us — or they don’t. Currently there’s an election coming up in Australia; it’s fascinating to think about the stories the politicians are spinning — and who they’re targeting, and why, with those stories.
When you choose a story for a piece of writing, it’s a way of making the writing relevant to a specific group of readers, in very few words.
If you have a blog, which basic story are you using? For years, the tagline of this blog was something like: when writing’s more than your career, it’s your life. I changed the tagline at some point to: professional writing for love and money.
Taglines are important. They’re a reminder to me that I keep the blog relevant for a specific group of writers. Does your tagline tell a story?
2. Images tell a story and evoke emotion
Images are becoming more and more important to all writers, because we’re competing for audience attention.
Some companies use images brilliantly. Consider Greenpeace, and the images they use to tell a story — tiny boats going up against huge ships. That’s the story of David and Goliath, and it resonates with their audience.
When we discuss fiction, I tend to natter on about emotion. Telling stories, whether you do it with words or images, is a shortcut to emotion.
3. Become your reader, and tell that story
“You” is one of the most powerful words in the language. (“Free” is another one.)
However, when you use “you” you’re still at a distance from the reader. Ideally, when you’re telling a story, you want to get so close to the reader that you become him. This can be challenging to do, even in copywriting.
It means paying attention to voice. If you were the reader you’re targeting with a piece of writing, who would you be? What would you sound like? What would be important to you? What would you pay attention to?
Start by telling yourself the story of who you imagine the typical reader of a piece of writing to be. Then experiment with writing as that person. And tell more stories. 🙂
Telling stories is fun, and it’s profitable too. So go ahead — tell stories — do it any way at all. You can’t make a mistake. Use the power of “once upon a time.”
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Updated: February 5, 2018
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