Got a “productivity hack” for you today.
Especially for all you procrastinators out there, as you sit down in consternation at your vintage Corona-Smith typewriter. (If you’re a hipster or an oldster, that is.)
If you don’t know how to start your story, use a trick from Harry Potter-author J.K. Rowling.
You remember in When Harry Met Sally, early in the movie, the young Harry (the brilliant Billy Crystal) tries to impress Sally with how “dark” he is?
He tells her:
“When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.”
Dark it may be, but it kills the thrill of the journey – for me at least.
However, when writing the story, Harry’s move contains some useful advice: start with the ending first.
This is apparently what J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter. She wrote the ending to her sprawling seven-volume series long before she became a publishing pop star.
After all, when you know where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to get there.
This is especially true for Sales Stories, when your narrative has a very specific job to do. Not just scintillate, but sell.
Most importantly, it helps you tell a story that matters.
The “ending” in a sales story is usually the great results that the product or service provides.
Once you know the results, you can pick the best story that leads to it. Could be your experience, could be a customer’s. But say it simply – start from where they were at in the beginning and show how they got to the ending.
Then take a step back. Does the journey matter? Was it a significant transformation, one your prospect would identify with?
If not, you may need to add in important detail or cut out boring bits.
Here’s what I mean: if you just plop an ending or results down without any context, they land with a dull thud. Put the right set up before them, and they can resound with the force of a biblical trumpet.
Take the generic ending in a typical fairy-tale story: “They all lived happily after.”
If the reader doesn’t care who those people are, and what they went through, the reader won’t really care that the princesses or peasants or what-have- you turned out to be happy.
When you start with the end in mind, you focus your storytelling on what it really took to get those results.
And if you do that right, then your result doesn’t have to sound earth-shattering. Or be worded brilliantly. The “setup” does the heavy lifting.
Let’s look at a case study from a full-page ad I saw recently in Shape magazine. For magazine ads, it was heavy on copy and short on image. And the copy was arranged in a story.
Now, here is the “ending” or results part of the story:
“I have now reached my goal weight and the results have been unbelievable!”
Pretty generic, huh? Nothing too inspiring there. Doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity.
If we started with just that we may think to ourselves, “Who’s going to care about this?”
Ah, patience. Because now read the ad in full.
[S]“After endless procrastination, I finally committed to doing something constructive about the extra 20 pounds I’d been carrying around with me since my teenage years. I started eating healthily, began exercising and before long, I started seeing results. I felt incredibly motivated until I noticed stretch marks on my hips and stomach. [D] Luckily a close friend recommended Bio-Oil (she had used it throughout her pregnancy for stretch marks). [R] I have now reached my goal weight and the results have been unbelievable! Thank you Bio-Oil for saving the day, and just in time for summer!” [I]Vanessa Hartley
Now imagine that you’re someone who finally lost the extra weight you’ve been carrying for all those years. You did it! No one thought you could. But just when you accomplished that, another problem rears its head: stretch marks.
With that setup in mind, doesn’t the ending start to come alive for you? To really matter?
(And hey — did you notice the typewriter-style courier-font for the copy? Corona-Smith, baby.)
Sharp-eyed Copy Chiefs will also notice the 60 Second Sales Hook in action here, with an extra long “problem section” and a single-named identity tucked in at the end. (I’ve marked each section: [I]dentity, [S]truggle, [D]iscovery, [R]esults.)
Once the writer laid the foundation of Vanessa’s struggle, the pinnacle of her achievement shined brightly. It was transformed from common to compelling. With the right setup.
The MORAL: Write the ending of your story first, and then build to it with the appropriate setup.