Writing is hard work, isn’t it? It takes a lot out of you. Then doubts creep in. Will my audience actually read this? Even if your topic is relevant, readers sometimes bail out. How to keep them reading? Here are a few insider ideas stolen from top fiction writers.
You create content for your business to build relationships, boost credibility, and sell stuff. But if you can’t hold the reader’s attention, those things don’t happen. Writers of popular fiction face the same problem. If their readers give up after a few chapters, they won’t rave about the new book to their friends, or recommend it to book-club buddies, or write a five-star review.
So they grab the reader by the throat from the very first page and tighten their grip until The End. Often they rely on lurid subjects: theft, murder, blackmail, and ever-popular sex. In business writing, you can’t use those subjects (darn it!) But keep this in mind: it’s not just the subject; it’s how it’s presented.
Check your premise
Good writing begins with a question: what are you really writing about? Without a clear answer, your writing will wander around, and your readers will wander away.
So define a premise — a guiding idea. The thriller Jurassic Park pits the smartest animals ever (human beings) in a battle against the biggest (dinosaurs). Can brains compete with brawn… and wicked teeth?
Your business story may not have the mass appeal of a dinosaur attack. But readers who need you most will be spellbound. After all, it’s about them: a problem that keeps them awake at night, a problem you can solve.
The One-Spine Rule
The premise has to be based on the reader’s desire. Not what you think they need. Not a solution for a problem they don’t care about. But what the reader actually wants.
Thriller writers give the hero one (and only one) desire — to marry the girl, or make a lot of money, or avoid the dinosaur’s teeth. They pick the one that’s most urgent. If the dinosaur is chasing you, you don’t invite the girl out to dinner or stop to check your investment portfolio, you dodge those choppers.
So what’s the one central benefit you’re writing about, your equivalent of avoiding dinosaur teeth? In the answer is your premise — the one spine that keeps your message on point.
Select what’s relevant
On my desk are index cards with reminders I’ve collected. One of the most helpful reads: No Dumping Allowed!
It’s easy to dump everything you know onto the page. But here’s the problem: the reader doesn’t need to know everything you know. It’s not the reader’s job to filter through all that stuff; that’s your job. So eliminate everything that’s merely nice-to-know and leave only the essentials.
I know what you’re thinking; you’re proud of your knowledge; you want to demonstrate how smart you are. Don’t!
Establish a rhythm
This entire article is about the no-dumping rule. And the rule applies to sentences and paragraphs too. So look for “suitcase” sentences with too much information crammed inside. Or long paragraphs overloaded with unneeded details (the discouraging “great gray wall” of text).
After all, if you cram everything into one sentence, why would the reader keep reading? Better to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to consume one bite at a time.
One of the tricks is: never be in a hurry. But wait a minute. We just talked about eliminating the unnecessary, which means the message will move faster. Sounds like a contradiction, no?
Not necessarily. When you’re not in a hurry, you can spend time on the problem. And the obstacles. And the reader’s true desire. You can pose a question in one paragraph and answer it in the next. Or pose a question early in your article and spool out the answer an inch at a time.
Think setup and payoff
The beginning of Jurassic Park is devoted to setup. Humans are going to struggle against fearsome critters.
Readers know humans probably will prevail. But maybe all won’t survive. Which ones? You’ll find out in minor payoffs (answers) as the story progresses, ending in a big payoff (the climax) when all questions are finally answered.
Need an example? Reread this article. You’ll see how I wrote it with setup and payoff in mind.
The greatest technique
Yikes! This seems like a lot of work. Is it really worthwhile? No. Not if your purpose is merely to grab attention, entertain, and boost rankings. It’s only as worthwhile as your goal. So here’s my suggestion: write something that can change the reader's life.
Don’t get me wrong. Jurassic Park attracted attention and entertained. But it had a deeper purpose too. It illustrated the perils of believing we’re smarter than Mother Nature. Just imagine how that message, if taken to heart, could change the world.
What could you write that could change lives?
For me, I believe that if you learn to communicate your message more powerfully, it can transform your business into a profitable sales machine. It can help get your valuable products and services into the hands of those who need them most. Best of all, it can change your life too.
That’s why I wrote this article. It’s what I believe. You believe it too. That’s why you read (hopefully with breathless anticipation) all the way to…