Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Codename Copywriter: How Crime Novels, Thrillers and Spy Fiction Can Improve Your Copywriting

I love the ability of crime, thriller and spy fiction authors to hook us with twists and turns to the very end. I admire their general storytelling panache. Recently, it occurred to me that they'd make tremendous copywriters. 

How so?

Short sentences
One reason these novels move so fast is that they contain short sentences. Writers keep the narrative crisp - and the reader turning the pages - with short sentences. In fact, they've become a James Ellroy hallmark.
Good copy does the same. You've got to grab the reader's attention and hold it. Dip into a decent crime or thriller and see how it's done.

Attention to detail
One of the terrific things about fiction is the attention to detail. I love the sharp observations that make a certain novel so characteristic of its genre. The George Smiley trilogy is masterful at it. Only in Smiley's world would you mistrust the postman or postwoman, teachers or lecturers; and would seemingly innocent conversations be loaded with codewords and secret messages.  

Copywriters must pay attention to detail, especially while researching products and target audiences. Do so and you can sell things from angles the competition has never even thought of. Tickety-boo!

Do tell, but not too soon
Ninety-nine per cent of the time, copywriting gets the product's star benefit, the unique selling point (USP), straight off its chest rather than bottling it up inside. We can't always save the best till last. By that time, you could have lost your audience.

However, sometimes it's good for copy to keep the reader in suspense. How do our friends in the crime, spy and thriller world do it? By delivering bit by bit. The end of each chapter normally has a twist that compels us to keep reading. Of course, you don't get the twist, the whole twist and nothing but the twist: you just get part of it.

We can do this in copywriting. Veil your benefit in mystery slightly to make your audience read on for closure. Don't string it out too long, however. And make sure you reward them for reading to the end. If you don't, they'll feel cheated and angry.

I'm off to continue with The Honourable Schoolboy (I'm gagging to know if Smiley nails Karla in the end! But don't tell me just yet!). 

Have any novelists influenced your own writing or, for that matter, your life, even? I'd love to hear who they are.

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