What’s the difference between a good story and a bad story? A good story draws in the audience, speaks to them personally in some way, and closes with a little lesson on life.
Some stories are funny. Others are sad. But every single good one has something in common; it speaks to the audience, never ever at them.
And I have to caution that if you are speaking at your audience, you will never ever get the blogging or copywriting results you want from them.
Here’s how a bad story looks:
“I used to live in Hawaii as a child. My friends and I would go surfing everyday. We’d go down to the beach that was near my family’s house.
One day, my friend asked me to surf a big wave with him. I said no but he asked me again and again, pressuring me to take my surf board out onto these 10′ high waves.
Finally, I gave in to him. I paddled out and faced my fear head on. And I made it happen. I surfed the big wave.
The moral of my story is that you need to step up or step out. You need to face your fears head on and conquer them, even if it’s something you don’t want to do.”
What makes this a bad story?
- It’s all about the writer – me me me
- Surfing waves isn’t relevant to a real life obstacle
- It’s not relatable for most people
Simply, if you are going to offer your personal experiences to someone, you have to remember the story isn’t about you, per se. Instead, you need to aim to teach, illustrate, or inspire with a serious issue that’s relevant to your reader.
There are a few simple ways to do this:
- Ask questions to lighten the tone
- Use line breaks so readers have to think
- Make the story about a friend, not you
- Relate the story to a life issue/business event
Now, I’m not sure this happened for you, but when I initially saw this story, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, poor you. You had to grow up in Hawaii at the beach all day and were afraid of a big wave? That must have been awful.”
So, instead of leading with such an awful circumstance, you can try to invoke empathy in your reader like this:
“I had it really rough growing up. We lived in Hawaii. I had to go surfing almost every day. The weather was usually perfect, around 80 degrees with a light leeward breeze, so, yeah, I always had to be outside.
And so much pineapple and luscious tropical fruit! You can’t even imagine…partying with hula girls, bonfires on the beach, fresh seafood all the time…but I digress.
No, no, don’t feel sorry for me.
One day, a friend asked me to join him at a beach full of serious surfers. Ten foot high waves pounded the shore. You could hear them, crash, crash, crash – and even just the thought of paddling out to them gave me the shivers.
I was scared…but I couldn’t tell my friend that. I knew I had to man up and take on those waves or I had to go home like a little boy. So what did I do?”
If you want to write a story about yourself, make sure that you do it in a way that allows people to feel connected to the inspirational message you are going to tell them. In this case, I used humor.
I made the point of his story a bit of a joke because…no one will ever feel sorry for a guy who grew up on Hawaii, will we?
Here’s the second part of your copywriting lesson; after you tell your story, circle it back to something that’s relevant for the average person, and/or the audience you’re speaking to:
“To this day, I cannot believe that I had the chutzpah to surf those waves. I seriously thought I just might die trying, though.
And I want you to think about this. What is it in your life, something just on the edge of who you are, what you do, where you want to go, that scares you?
What “thing” keeps you from truly taking the plunge into the next phase of living your life?
Because next time that you feel like you just want to go home, instead, it’s time for you to surf the big wave. You need to take the risk. You need to make it happen.
In a job, at home, with your friends. Stop waiting for someone to force you out of your comfort zone … and start taking on your life again.”
Remember that when in doubt, you can always just make the story about someone you know. That way, all the culpability for egoism won’t be yours and you can copywrite a much better story.