Follow Your Tears …

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Do you remember the last battle sequence in Star Wars?

Luke is strapped into his X-Wing, racing down the narrow metal canyon in the Death Star …

… Darth Vader and a brace of TIE Fighters hot on his tail …

And Luke is about to fire the missiles that will either hit the target and destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon …

… or miss completely, enslaving the “puny Rebel force” once and for all.

Just before firing, Luke is relying on his computer guidance system to hit the tiny, womp rat-sized target …

… when suddenly, the ghostly voice of Obi Wan Kenobi fills the cramped cabin and urges Luke to use the force and listen to his feelings.

Luke in X Wing cockpit

Listening To His Feelings

So what does Luke do?

He disables the guidance system and basically fires blindly!

Now, as soon as I was old enough to understand what was going on in the story, I thought to myself, “that is the worst advice ever.”

Listen to your feelings? Instead of the precisely calibrated computer guidance system?

What a stupid thing to do.

But actually, I’ve discovered the wisdom of Obi Wan …

When it comes to writing sales copy.

Sometimes you have to let your feelings guide you to the perfect story.

Because while it’s important to master the technical elements of sales copy …

… different ways of opening a message, how to close, leveraging testimonials …

… when it comes to story, sometimes your best guide is to “follow your nose.”

Or in my case, recently, your tears.

 The STORY

Recently I was deep in the research for the sales letter of a health product …

Looking for ways to connect with my prospect.

I knew (analytically) that fear was going to be a big driver …

But I wasn’t sure what story to use — especially since I didn’t have any client or product creator stories that spoke to some of the fears I was targeting – specifically, the harrowing after-effects of a stroke.

But then I chanced to click upon a video transcript of a stroke victim, where he explained to the interviewer how much his life had changed since his health disaster.

As he relayed the conditions of his new life, stuck in a hospital for the first 6 months …

… not being able to swallow so even his meat courses received the “blender treatment” …

… the coldness of the hospital staff, so he felt unable to ask for help buttoning up his pants …

… fearing that he wouldn’t be the man of the house any longer …

… I started to get emotional. A little choked up.

I remembered how drastically my grandmother’s life changed after her stroke.

And I started to feel that little sick feeling of worry in the pit of my stomach about my own parents – fearing they might experience the same.

And that’s when I knew I had struck upon a story that would resonate with my prospects, just by paying attention to my own reactions.

Because your own feelings can be a “litmus test” for the power of a story.

True, the story needs to fit the experience of the prospect, so you’ve got to have a good sense of that avatar.

But as a human being, you can trust your feelings to sort out a good story from a bad one.

(The bad one has ZERO emotional impact.)

And not only did I know that this would be a good story to tell …

But my feelings also pointed me to the details I should use — by noticing exactly where in his story that my feelings of empathy and worry were triggered.

Because a good detail can make or break a story.

In fiction, it’s often referred to as the “telling detail” … that nugget of reality that’s just enough to nudge the reader into the experience of the story.

Those details are the building blocks of your story, helping to create the virtual experience.

So instead of saying something like …

“I felt really sick all the time”

You instead include a few telling details like:

“I kept a plastic bag stuffed in my pocket at all times  — because I could throw up at any moment.”

The MORAL

When you hear or watch a story — real or made up — keep one eye on your feelings and notice the point in the story that triggers your emotions. What detail did it? You’ll find something you can use the next time you write your next sales message.

Stay Tuned Next Week …

In which I rewrite three famous movies — for the worse

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 6 comments
  • ehanada
    Reply

    Scott, great post! I am a new copywriter and I was in an intensive workshop last month learning the craft and business side of copywriting. When I read aloud a rough version of my sales copy for my services, which involved the health struggles of close family members, it moved me to tears. When I eventually finished my piece and looked up at the other members of the group and saw tears welled up in their eyes, I knew I really had something. It was actually the first form of validation for my copywriting. You are 100% correct in your post…great work!!

    Ed Hanada

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      That’s great, Ed! You hit upon the kind of emotional response we’re after. Other writers know this too — the great fantasist George R.R. Martin once said of one of his first mature works, a short story called ‘The Second Kind of Loneliness’:

      “‘Loneliness’ … was an open wound of a story, painful to write, painful to read. It represented a real breakthrough for my writing. My earlier stories had come wholly from the head, but this one came from the heart and the balls as well. It was the first story I ever wrote that truly left me feeling vulnerable, the first story that ever made me ask myself, ‘Do I really want to let people read this?'” (GRRM: A RRetrospective, p. 80)

      Maybe you felt that kind of vulnerability when you read aloud the copy for your health piece.

      John Carlton has said that he didn’t want to run an ad unless the business owner felt uncomfortable reading it — he wanted the ad to ride that sharp emotional edge.

  • Bruce Wesley Chenoweth
    Reply

    Outstanding post Scott! You completely captivated me to the end, which is not easily accomplished. I appreciate the reminder, especially so well demonstrated with excellence.

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      Thanks much, Bruce! (I’m lucky to be writing about stories … so I get to piggy back on cool ones like Star Wars.)

  • Lawrence Petroni
    Reply

    Thanks Scott love the story – to pull out the emotion and tip the reader into the experience…

    • Scott McKinstry
      Reply

      Hi Lawrence, thanks for chiming in. (And welcome to Copy Chief, too.)

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