Use This Screenwriting Technique to Break Your Copy Down Into 4 Easy Steps

Use Screenwriting Techniques to Write Your CopyYou’re sitting in front of a blank computer screen, completely at a loss. You know you need to write copy for your website, a blog post, or another marketing piece, but you just can’t seem to get started.

We’ve all been there. Even the pros get writer’s block! But the thing that distinguishes them from a beginner is that they have tools and tricks that help them break through that block until the copy emerges.

One tool you can try is borrowed from screenwriting: a very simplistic version of the three-act structure of storytelling.

1. What’s the problem? Act I – Chase them up a tree.
If you ever studied screenwriting you learned that the setup or Act I of plots, in movies and TV shows, was often described as “chasing the protagonist up a tree.” It’s basically introducing the character and the problem.

No matter what you’re selling — product or service — it solves a problem for your customer. For some products, the problem is obvious. A bread knife solves the problem of needing to cut some bread. Other problems may be less obvious, but they still exist.

Start by introducing the problem to your reader. Infomercials are a great example of this — even if a little clumsy! I think of them as “problems you didn’t know you had,” like not being able to crack an egg, or not being able to wash your feet in the shower. (Honestly? Are these problems people actually think about?)

They seem like silly problems in a lot of cases, but those infomercials do a good job of setting them up as big problems. Just picture those images of people smashing eggs and falling over in the shower. Tragedy!

The problem you’re solving is probably a bit more serious, but you still need to remind people that they have it by chasing them up that tree.

2. How can you make the problem worse? Act II – Deepen the problem.
You’ve chased your customer up the proverbial tree by reminding them of their problem in step one, and now, in screenwriting terms, you want to make the problem seem even more challenging. (Screenwriters talk about chasing their character up a tree and then throwing rocks at him, but I find that image a bit disturbing!)

What might happen if your potential customer doesn’t address their problem? What’s the worst possible outcome?

You decide how far you want to take it. The most sensational copy can turn anything into a life or death choice, but you can still accentuate your customer’s problem without resorting to extremes. I like to call this pushing their buttons.

This works because people respond to offers for one of two reasons: 1) to avoid losing something they already have (money, time, their life!) or 2) to gain something they don’t have (health, wealth, relationships, etc.).

3. How is your product or service the perfect solution? Introduce the solution.
In Act II, the protagonist comes up with a plan—the perfect solution to get out of that darn tree.

Your product is the perfect solution to a very specific problem for a very specific subset of people. If you reach this step and realize that your solution isn’t a perfect fit for the problem you described, go back and revisit the problem. You might need to rewrite your content.

The key here is to position yourself as not just a solution, but the only solution. You are the magic sword that slays the dragon, or the kiss that wakes the princess—and nothing else will do.

Even in a highly competitive field, your solution is the best—absolutely perfect—in a certain set of circumstances. Figure out what those are and spell them out for the reader, and your ideal customers will feel compelled to purchase.

4. What should they do next? The Final Act – The climax.
The climax of movies often feels so satisfying because it’s the only ending that would feel right. You have to create that feeling for your customers, too.

This step is absolutely key and one that people too often forget.

You can’t just put an “add to cart” or “subscribe” button on your web page and hope for the best. Potential customers must have their hands held every step of the way. Tell them what to do, how to do it, and what to expect next. Refer back to my recent post on calls-to-action for more advice on this, but in short, be explicit and give a reason why they should respond.

These four simple screenwriting questions will guide you through just about any piece of copy — from a traditional long-form sales letter to a blog post. (Yes, a blog post can still move the reader through these steps, even if you aren’t traditionally “selling” something with it.)

Can you see how your copy is telling a story, much like a screenplay? Please take a moment and share one way you plan to apply this new strategy in your next copywriting project. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking! Thanks and here’s to your sweet success.

Debra Jason

Marketing & writing with heart, not hype at at The Write Direction
A recipient of the “Creative Person of the Year” award, Debra educates and empowers creative solopreneurs and enthusiastic business owners to create a lifestyle business that provides them with the flexibility, fun and freedom to do what they love. She also inspires you to communicate your marketing message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal, raving fans - even if you have been struggling with how to transform your ideas into words in the past.

Comments

  1. Interesting Post Debra, Thank you for sharing this 🙂
    Jason Power recently posted…Why you Should have a Responsive Website DesignMy Profile

  2. Thanks for the idea! I’m relatively new to blogging, so I’m sure the day will come when I find that blank screen. And, once again, I appreciate the reminder about the call-to-action, which I can definitely use some improvement on. You are so right about needing to hold hands and show people what to do next.

    • Thanks Jason & Joyce for stopping by.
      The call-to-action is a vital element, so I’m happy to remind you of that Joyce.
      Don’t forget to tell people what you’d like them to do.
      Here’s to your sweet success.
      ~Debra

  3. Thanks for the great points Debra. I find that once I have a few key ideas to discuss the best thing is for me to just simply get started and keep it simple!
    Wendy G Young recently posted…Day 8 – Saying YES to BEING BRIEF AND TO THE POINT!My Profile

  4. I love the tie to screen writing, Debra. My biggest area of improvement is to get more concrete about what I want my readers to do. I am way better at this than I used to be, but I’ll continue to work on it too. 🙂
    Stephanie LH Calahan ( recently posted…Do You Have the Courage to Release the Familiar and Claim Your Power?My Profile

  5. Great tips Debra! Thank you for sharing! 🙂
    Belinda Rose recently posted…Advent: A Season of Spiritual RenewalMy Profile

  6. I love your creative idea for thinking about writing blogs! Its always nice to get people inspired by thinking out of the box. Thank you for sharing!
    Teri recently posted…Your Fabulous Sales page, part 4My Profile

  7. Hi Debra,

    This is a great tactic!

    “…a blog post can still move the reader through these steps, even if you aren’t traditionally “selling” something with it.”

    Using any piece of copy to move your readers to do what you want them to do is brilliant! It doesn’t have to be just about the sales page.

    Thanks.
    Denise Marie Filmore recently posted…Are you Humble or Hungry?My Profile

    • Content comes into play in all marketing channels Denise – be it blogging, sales pages, email messages, etc.
      And, it doesn’t always have to be about sales. Actually, many times – as with blogging – it’s about sharing valuable information that helps your readers.
      Thanks.
      ~Debra

  8. Debra, I love love how you break things down into such simple systems to follow! This makes perfect sense, and it’s fun to think of it in this way! I will definitely have these four questions front-and-center when writing copy for upcoming programs, etc. THANK YOU! 🙂 Tu es geniale! 🙂
    eyenie recently posted…7 Questions to Ask for Discovering Your SoulStyleMy Profile

  9. Love how you’ve broken the process into manageable steps. And the humor. That’s an important add on for me…keep it light. Next time I sit in front of the computer and my mind is a blank, I’ll definitely remember the imagery you have created. As a hypnotherapist…I know it works on a number of levels. Thank you for the tips.
    Jacqueline Fairbrass recently posted…These are a Few of My Favorite ThingsMy Profile

    • Thanks Jacqueline. Keeping it light is a good idea. We can make ourselves crazy when we get “heavy” and stress out about what we’re writing. Using imagery certainly helps to inspire one’s self.
      🙂
      ~Debra

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