How Creative Writing Makes Great Copy
What does the next bestselling novel have in common with your copy? The art of writing is a vast and nuanced subject, and each individual type has its own unique legs to stand on and techniques to master – but what sits at the centre of the ven diagram?
Whether you’re writing screenplays or sales copy, the one similarity between all types of writing is the need to tell an enticing story.
For generations, the act of storytelling has been at the heart of human connection. From influential speeches across history to plain and simple product reviews on a company website, all writing is trying to do one thing: sell your belief to another person.
Copywriting vs creative writing
Before we can get into how creative writing can elevate your copy strategy, we first need to get to know how the two schools of writing differ and how they coalesce.
Copywriting is text, usually short-form, with the intention of marketing a product or service. Good copy is specific, on-brand, and persuasive – often leading readers to take a specific action, be that buy, sign up, or get in touch.
Creative writing is, broadly speaking, all forms of unrestricted written expression. Novels, poetry, screenplays, and so on. Creative writing is not strictly bound by a common form or intention. The prose can be long or short-form, and the style can be both stark and floral, concise or verbose.
When we compare the two, there are some clear differences. Where creative writing intends to predominantly entertain its reader, copywriting intends to sell or incite action from them. However, both also have some unquestionable similarities, and this is where we can find the answer to our upcoming question: Is creative writing the key to effective copywriting?
What about content writing?
‘Copywriting’ and ‘content writing’ are two terms that are often used interchangeably. Though doing so is not necessarily wrong, in most cases they are two different modes of writing, and the line between them is drawn by what the text is being written for – one for generating leads, and the other for driving traffic.
Copywriting persuades where content writing informs.
Both use similar techniques and can utilise SEO to attract more readers, but they are each distinctive in their own right. Most professional copywriters will have experience in both: writing ad copy, slogans, and landing pages as a copywriter; and blog posts, newsletters, and even e-books as a content writer.
Content writing leaves more room for creative integration than traditional copywriting alone, but both can benefit from a creative outlook and approach, and we will see why in the following section.
5 fiction writing techniques that create effective copy
Creative writing encompasses a vast array of writing styles, from plays to song lyrics – and there is plenty we can learn from each approach – but fiction writing holds the most potential for actionable ways to enhance our content specifically.
Studying creative writing in fiction can help us to:
1). Identify what your audience wants
When we pick up a work of fiction, we do so for more than just the act of reading it. We read stories to escape our everyday, to learn something new, to walk a mile in another’s shoes. Novelists must be constantly aware when writing what their readers want, and who their readers are.
Romance readers want to be romanced the same way thriller readers want to be thrilled. But have you thought about how this might apply to copywriting?
Copywriters are no strangers to target demographics, and this awareness feeds into the intention of what they are writing. When someone wants to replace their front door, they do not just want a new door; they want security and reliability. When someone wants a repairman, they do not just want a problem solved; they want efficiency and instant convenience.
Specificity makes good prose, and understanding who your readers are and what they want can ultimately help your copy do its job in persuading readers to keep reading and heed your call to action.
2). Hone in on your theme
Leading on nicely from knowing your audience and achieving specificity, keeping a consistent theme in mind while you are writing is another vital step to achieving effective copy.
Themes in novels are what the story is really about. They are rarely explicitly stated, and sometimes they are not obvious at first glance, but the theme is the backbone of the narrative. In other words, it is the whole point of writing the story in the first place.
Love, loss, belonging … no story is complete without its theme. The same goes for copywriting.
Determine the ‘why’ before you start writing. Think about the reader’s search intent, and what they are hoping to find by clicking or picking up your piece of writing.
Think about why you want them to read it in the first place – is it to sell a product or service? To inform on a particular topic? Keep these linchpins in mind when writing and your finished copy will fall together coherently with a specificity that speaks to readers directly.
3). Understand the importance of narrative structure
Narrative theory is a fascinating topic, dating back thousands of years – and those same basic structures still run through the stories we tell today. We are hardwired in this way from a young age, drawing on these ancestral roots.
Even when a child is telling a story, with no former knowledge of narrative theory, they will follow a formula that echoes these age-old plot structures.
Most of us are familiar with the classic: set-up, inciting incident, midpoint, climax, and resolution. This ‘Hero’s Journey’ format is dominant in the west, and if we move eastward we can see the roots of a similar, but slightly different storytelling format. A big one being the Japanese four-part story structure ‘Kishōtenketsu’, which moves through an: introduction (ki), development (shō), twist (ten), and conclusion (ketsu).
No matter where you are in the world, proper structure is vital if you want your writing to pack a punch and, most importantly, keep its promises. Because if your set-up offers a taste of one story, but your climax concludes another, readers are going to feel betrayed and unfulfilled.
As humans, we crave proper resolution – especially in the stories we read and the copy we choose to absorb.
Existing formulas used in the marketing industry today include:
- Promise, Picture, Proof, Push
- Problem, Agitate, Solution
- Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
- Simon Sinek’s: Why, How, What
- The Before-After Bridge
Depending on your intended outcome and audience, writing to a formula can guarantee palpable results. These structures have been designed with readers in mind, and with an intimate understanding of how human brains work through problems and seek solutions.
Look back at some copy you have already written and see if you can identify an underlying structure already present there. You might be surprised to find you were following an instinctive narrative formula without ever knowing it.
4). Hook readers from the beginning
There are various ways to structure a piece of copy, but every piece that is worth its mettle will start with a hook. The same goes for books, films, and stage plays – they all use hooks to grab the reader’s attention from the onset and guide them into the meatier, expository sections of the story.
Hooks can be dramatic or subtle, but they are always intentional.
In good copy, hooks can be found in a few places. An article, for example, might have its hook in the first line or embedded in the meta title, whereas a slogan is a hook in its entirety.
Your hook might be a powerful statement that makes the reader want to seek a ‘payoff’ to the promise it suggests, it can be a question asked directly to the reader, or just a clear depiction of a problem they might be having with the guarantee of an actionable solution.
When writing your hooks, try to avoid melodrama or statements that are overzealous. Such pitfalls can turn your reader off at the first hurdle. Aim to simply entice – and remember to always follow through on your metaphorical breadcrumb trails.
5). Nail tone-of-voice
Copywriters are skilled at writing in a variety of voices depending on the clients they are working with. Each brand will have its own ‘tone-of-voice’, or how it would like to ‘sound’ or come across to its audience. A dating coach might have a personable and casual brand voice, whereas a law firm will hold more of a professional or clinical demeanour. It is important they are distinctive and well-suited, otherwise their target audiences will refuse to buy into them.
Tone-of-voice is like character development. Authors will think long and hard about the point of view from which their story is being told, the character’s individual voice, and how they stand out against the story’s greater whole. How they will be seen and understood by the reader.
The same goes for brand tone-of-voice. It is vital to keep it in line with the brand and maintain consistency throughout the work. An author will ensure their characters are believable throughout the story, and by paying close attention to tone-of-voice you too are cultivating believability and credibility in your client’s brand identity.
Is creative writing the key to effective copywriting?
Now we have a better understanding of what makes a good story, it might be easier to see how creative writing feeds good copy – and vice versa.
Does creative writing make effective copy? The answer is: it can.
In order to grow as writers, in any field, it is important to study new techniques and perspectives. What you learn from one corner of an industry can help fortify another, and the the same goes for creative writing.
It is said that people buy stories, not products. So, if you want to learn how to drive traffic with your writing, or generate more leads, start by learning how to tell a story well.
If you can convince yourself first, the rest is sure to follow.