Here’s the thing: your sentences don’t have to say much. They just have to say the right things. Here’s how to do that.
When you are trying to get people to respond to your articles, subscribe to your email newsletter, buy your products, or donate to your cause … you need to write seductive sentences.
And you need to do it naturally.
In this episode of Rough Draft you’ll discover:
- The one thing every good sentence needs
- How to use active verbs and concrete nouns to create tiny worlds inside your sentences
- A list of questions to help you find emotions for your sentences
- Why novelists and screenwriters won’t help you with this tactic
- How to make writing seductive sentences an instinct (you will be disappointed)
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
- How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish
- Breakthrough Advertising
- 10 Productivity Tips from a Blue-Collar Genius
- The Dirty Little Secret to Seducing Your Readers
This episode is brought to you by StudioPress Sites.
5 Ways to Write a Seductive Sentence
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Demian Farnworth: Howdy dear podcast listener, this is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
So this is episode 29. And we are calling it 5 Ways to Write a Seductive Sentence …
Literary theorist, author, and legal scholar, Stanley Fish, author of “How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One” said, “The skill it takes to produce a sentence,” “the skill of lining events, actions, and objects in a strict logic — is also the skill of creating a world.”
In other words, sentences are the engines of creativity.
Take this sentence for instance: “Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth.”
There is a mountain of meaning buried in those eight words. Sure, change the sequence and you change the meaning, but as long as you don’t screw with that framework, people will stay with you.
The One Thing Every Good Sentence Needs
But as a web writer and a copywriter, it’s not just about mastering freshman English. There’s more to it. Here’s my friend Ginger, quoting Eugene Schwartz:
Ginger: “No sentence can be effective if it contains facts alone. It must also contain emotion, image, logic, and promise.”
Demian Farnworth: Here’s the thing: your sentences don’t have to say much. They just have to say the right things.
Our imaginations will fill in the blanks.
So, when you are trying to get people to respond to your articles, leave comments, subscribe to your email newsletter, buy your products, or donate to your cause … you need to write seductive sentences, and you need to do it naturally.
How to Use Active Verbs and Concrete Nouns to Create Tiny Worlds Inside Your Sentences
This is the part of the program where we focus less on overcoming obscurity — we are assuming your reader has found your article … we are now concerned about keeping her on the page so she doesn’t neglect your hard work.
Here’s how it’s done.
1. Insert facts
This is nothing more than basic subject and verb agreement: “Moses ate a muffaletta.” Logical and consistent. The building blocks of a story.
You insert facts by thinking through the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why. Think specific and concrete … but how you say it matters, too.
Compare “On the first day of winter Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth” to “On the last day of winter Moses fed his muffuletta to the woolly mammoth.”
The significance is heightened in the first sentence, minimized in the second. All by one word. Can you guess which word?
And notice how your sympathies change when I write, “On the first day of winter, Moses fed his muffuletta to the three-day old woolly mammoth.”
Those new facts heighten the emotional appeal of that simple story. It’s the same sort of feeling you get when you read “Baby shoes: for sale, never used.”
2. Create images
It’s not a coincidence that the root of “imagination” is “image.”
Imagination is the capacity for people to see the world you are trying to paint. Intelligent people like to use their imagination. Don’t insult their intelligence by over-explaining, but also don’t abuse their intelligence by starving it.
Use active verbs and concrete nouns and you will naturally create images.
Or introduce one, two, or all of the five senses into your sentences: (sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound).
Use phrases like “imagine this” or “picture this” to signal to your reader you are about to paint a picture. That’s how I opened up the 10 Productivity Tips from a Blue-Collar Genius:
“Imagine a fifty-something man in a blue long-sleeve shirt, the cuffs unbuttoned, his knuckles thick and coarse. He’s on the side of the road, quibbling over a stack of used cinder blocks with a merchant.”
In those two sentences you learn the color of the shirt, the state of the cuffs, the condition of his knuckles. I tell you where he is and what he is doing in concrete language.
I use very precise language to tell you what he was doing: he wasn’t talking, he was “quibbling.” Something entirely different than chatting.
3. Evoke emotion
You can naturally get mood into your sentences if you follow the two steps above, but as a copywriter you don’t want emotion to be an afterthought. You must carefully plan and manufacture emotion.
This starts by asking: what is the dominant mood of your reader or customer? What problem is he or she trying to solve?
Is it fear over losing a job? A spouse? A scholarship? Pride of donating to a good cause? Joy for finally getting muscular definition in his calves?
You must know what keeps your ideal customer up at night. What makes him get up early? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? And then you must insert that emotion into your sentences.
4. Make Promises
But as a web writer you aren’t merely interested in heightening people’s emotions for the sake of heightening emotions, otherwise you’d be a novelist or screenwriter. Entertainment is not your bread and butter.
Getting action is.
A List of Questions to Help You Find Emotions for Your Sentences
So, you need people to see hope in your sentences:
- What promises are you making to the reader in this sentence?
- What advantages will the reader gain?
- What pain will they avoid if they obey you?
In the opening to The Dirty Little Secret to Seducing Readers I wrote:
“I’m guessing you want to write copy that sells. You want to write copy so irresistible it makes your readers scramble down the page — begging to do whatever it is you want when they’re done reading — whether it’s to make a purchase, send a donation, or join your newsletter.”
The promise is that you can learn how to write in such a way people can’t resist your words. And that’s compelling for the right people.
5. Practice, practice, practice
I’ve said this before: At first practice may feel mechanical, wooden. That’s okay. The goal is to get to a point where you unconsciously blend these elements so they feel natural in the sentence and can’t be pulled apart.
How to Make Writing Seductive Sentences an Instinct (You Will Be Disappointed)
To help you practice, here are some tips:
- Hand-write 100 great first sentences.
- Memorize portions of great sales letters.
- Study the opening and closing paragraphs of articles you love.
- Create 50 headlines for every article you write.
- Binge on Twitter. Twitter is the perfect mechanism for perfecting your sentences. You are forced to say a lot in 140 characters.
And as I said in the episode on technique, episode 20, training and practice will absorb most of your time.
All of your time. Because you are an exceptional web writer. Or want to become one. That’s what we do. We practice. And practice. And practice.
Until next time, take care.