Written by Karen D. Swim
Maman est morte.–Albert Camus, L’Etranger
The first line of a novel has the power to hook you as a reader and entice you to read more. The line may shock you with honesty, tease you with what is to come or set the scene for the story ahead. Some first lines are so brilliantly memorable that they have become more famous than the novel itself, such as:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. — George Orwell, 1984
It was a dark and stormy night. — Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
A great first line gets your attention and compels you to read on. It is the come-hither look and whispered breath of longing.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
It serves as an introduction to character, place or mood.
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. –J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. –Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
You do not have to be a literary great to apply this novel approach in business. Every business has a story but that story gets lost in corporate jargon. How often have you opened a marketing brochure or visited a website with a first line that made you lean in eager to read more?
Applying storytelling techniques in business writing is an excellent way to make a great impression and pick up customers. Storytelling adds warmth and humanity to your writing and feels more like a conversation than a pitch. Here are five practical ways that you can leverage the novel approach:
- Craft headlines that mirror the first line of a novel. Use them to capture your reader’s attention.
- Use “characters” to tell your business story. The character can be you, an employee or a customer.
- Think like a reader. If your copy were a book, what would make the reader pick it up from the shelf?
- Be descriptive. Providing a reader with just enough detail allows them to form a mental picture and makes them part of the scene. Visual mediums use this technique but it is also possible to do it on paper.
- Ditch the corporate jargon. The use of corporate jargon is common but often is a barrier to engaging your reader. It can read like a 10 foot wall that you expect readers to climb to get to the real message. Skip the corporate acronyms and jargon and talk to your readers.
Have you seen any good uses of storytelling in business? Are you using the technique in your own business writing?
Kelly Erickson takes this idea a step further in her post on Building Your Business with a Concept.
Joanna Young discusses the use of long words and makes a case for plain, simple language.
If you have ideas to share on Writing Website Content, please offer your comments here.