Guest post by: Nadia Jones
I went into college as an English major on a research scholarship, but quickly became disillusioned with the tedium of literary criticism. I drifted away to other electives, thinking maybe I’d switch majors, when by chance I was accepted in a fiction workshop.
The experience changed my life: here I am, sitting at this desk, writing for a living today.
So what did I learn in the literary demimonde that apply to the working world? Here are a few chestnuts:
1. Show, don’t tell.
The oldest and hoariest of workshop cliches, it’s one of the most important. Make a sensuous, concrete, visceral connection with your audience, rather than provide a dry recitation of facts. In business communication, this might mean literally using charts, pictures, or other visual aids, or it might mean punching up your language to immerse your audience in the scene.
For instance, say you’re selling coffee. If your copy doesn’t hit all five senses, you’re not doing your job. One way or another, it should convey the glug glug glug of the slow pour; that semi-opaque mahogany brew swirling into the cup; the rich, deep, fresh smell filling the air; the steam condensing on the tip of your nose as you take that first stimulating gulp. In other words, your reader should experience the beverage.
2. You have less than 15 seconds to make someone care.
Nobody is forced to read your story, let alone your whole novel. If it doesn’t hook a reader right away, it doesn’t matter how good it gets on page 100. Your work must possess a certain power and immediacy… immediately. If anything, this is TWICE as true for marketing communications. With fiction, readers will generally grant suspension of disbelief. With marketing, however, people know they’re being sold something, and will be on their guard unless persuaded—immediately and firmly—that that something is worth a look.
3. Fire Chekhov’s gun.
Playwright Anton Chekhov had a rule: if you draw the audience’s attention to a gun on the mantle in Act One, it has to go off in Act Three. This is about drama and symmetry. If you set something up at the beginning, make sure you shoot that gun at the end. In advertising, or even a simple intra-office presentation, this means, don’t start with a clever concept and then let it drop off. Always follow it through, like a golf swing. There should be a unifying idea that intrigues at the beginning, and pays off at the end. Your work should always be a Gestalt unto itself, complete and internally consistent, with no non-sequiturs.
After all the innovations over the millennia, from cuneiform to Twitter, the basic technology of writing is still one of our most powerful tools of persuasion. Seize the tools of verbal expression, and there’s no limit to what you can do.
Nadia Jones is a full-time education blogger based in Houston, Texas. Interested in all things academia, Nadia frequently writes for those interested in the realm of accredited online colleges. For questions and comments reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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